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Dec
29

Loss and Communication

Outline drawings of two adults with a squiggly bubble representing communication with a line from one person''s mouth to the bubble and a line from the bubble to the other person's ear

Audio Version (5 Minutes)

Five years. My 26-year-old son passed away unexpectedly five years ago today. It's still difficult to believe. So many things were going well for him. He was married, raising a young baby, and beginning to excel in a career. He had so much life ahead of him. I miss him and his vigor, silliness, and passion.

Although we didn't visit face to face as often as we could have, we communicated through text messages, daily snapchats of his daughter, him singing, his dog Jet and we talked every few days. I am grateful for all those modes of communication we shared. Although these modes may not be typical for your students, it's important to discover their best modes.

How do you ensure that ALL your students are connected and communicating with their most important people, friends and classmates and not losing out on communicative opportunities?

"An 18-month-old child has been exposed to 4,380 waking hours of oral language. A typical AAC user, exposed to modeling, two times a week for 30 minutes, would take 84 years to have the same level of exposure." - source AAC Community

What can you do? - Model AAC

At PATINS, I have been privileged to work with many K-12 stakeholders throughout the entire state through video consultations, webinars, or onsite trainings. Some of these relationships have continued for several years. These are important to me because most of these interactions supported students with Complex Communication Needs (CCN) and/or Orthopedic Impairments (OI). 

What else can you do? Request Free PATINS AAC Consultation

Students with CCN (go to practicalaac.org for additional information) have the right to communicate. It may be difficult to identify their methods of communication, but we must do our best to see and validate those attempts. We have several tools available to help and a great place to start is the Communication Matrix (Free).

You can think about your student as an active participant rather than a passive observer. How can you engage your student? Consider the basic purposes of communication:

  1. Refusing,
  2. Getting things,
  3. Socializing and
  4. Sharing/Gaining information.

When your student fusses, pushes something away or throws items, do you acknowledge and identify that as a refusal ("No thanks", "Don't want", or model a refusal icon) and offer an alternative? Start with a few symbols - Project-Core and Universal Core Vocabulary Selector

Engineer the environment so your student must ask for assistance (e.g., missing part to an activity, missing/dead battery, missing color, etc.). Also, have your student with CCN block the hallway path of a general education peer in order to initiate a conversation using a Step By Step communication device (101 Ideas for Step by Step).

The Step by Step is awesome for recording multiple words, phrases, and sentences to have conversations/social interactions (program the student's half of the conversation - “My name is x. What’s your name? I have two dogs and a cat. Do you have any pets? I like watching videos. What do you like to do?), counting, singing songs, giving instructions, or following directions, and much more!

Encourage all students to greet one another, new people, provide opportunities to share information, control others (e.g., activities such as cooking, art, cleaning, PE, etc.). See link for 101 Ideas above.

Encourage families to share information about home activities and events so that staff can engage the student about those. Use a written notebook, email, shared online document, recorded messages on voice output device, tablet or dedicated communication device.

Finally, you must also ensure the following to encourage robust authentic communication. When teaching/using AAC, students can easily get bored, frustrated if it's only used for academic tasks. Additionally, the AAC system must be taught keeping these ideas in mind:

  1. There must be a need to communicate
  2. There must be an opportunity to communicate
  3. There must be motivation
  4. There must be a way to communicate
  5. Give appropriate wait time and talk less!!!

Many students with CCN have already lost out on many opportunities to communicate. Please work with your team to determine the best mode of communication for your student, give them a voice and make sure everyone listens. Every student has the right to communicate (ASHA Communication Bill of Rights) and share their unique personalities.

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