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Oct
06

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools are like a tangible bit of your student’s soul.

I love working for PATINS. Going into work knowing there’s something I can do to help Indiana’s public PreK-12 staff and the students they serve at no cost to them? Amazing. A true dream job. However, there is one part of this job I really, really hate because it's so preventable.

At the time of this blog publishing, it has been 19 days since the last Least Favorite Thing happened. It hurts my heart, a feeling of mad-sad unlike any other, and it makes the list as my Least Favorite Thing because it’s so easily preventable:

Back up the AAC tools.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools are like a precious tangible bit of your student’s soul. These tools have words for family, friends, and favorite things. It’s organized and situated just right, like a perfectly organized office, where things are just the right style and everything is in its right place and no two are exactly the same. Just like the perfect office where all the most important things happen, it might burn to the ground and your student might be left with nothing. It is always heartbreaking when the tool is lost forever, sometimes life-threatening, and always preventable.

Reasons I've heard staff share while fighting back tears and screams of frustration:

  1. An art project resulting in q-tips and jello shoved into the charging port
  2. Dropped device in toilet
  3. “I don’t know, I just looked away for a minute and then suddenly all the buttons are gone!”
  4. Frisbee’d device across the room
  5. Well-meaning IT staff “updating” the device
  6. His sibling used it like a step stool to get to the kitchen counter
  7. App updates corrupted original file
  8. Left on the playground during a rainstorm
  9. “She got mad and deleted the app so she didn’t have to talk to us, but now she’d like it back.”
  10. He ate it

When backing up files, three really simple rules:

1. If it's not set up to be automatic, backup at least 4 times a year if not monthly, especially if you've done a big "vocabulary dump" or settings change.

2. Backups should be shared and shared confidentially with at least 3 people in a way that it could be retrieved in the dead of night in the middle of winter break on the way to the hospital. Google Drive, One Drive, or Drop Box are very popular options, others offer options owned by the software company.

3. Involve your student in the backup process. Talk about who sees the backups and why they're important and how to get to them. Backups, like checking the batteries in your fire alarm, aren't magical mysterious events. Involve your young students early and often and give them the opportunity to learn to advocate and direct how they want their tools, an important part of AAC competency.

Backing Up AAC Files:

These are a sampling of AAC products and directions on how to back up the files. Are you supporting software not on this list or have a tool that’s not software and need some help with backing up and using it? Please reach out to one of our AAC Specialists and we will help!

TouchChat iOS App

Proloquo2Go iOS App

LAMP Words for Life iOS App

Avaz Android and iOS App

TD Snap iOS App 

TD Snap on Windows

Empower (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NuVoice (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NovaChat devices

Speak For Yourself iOS App

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Sep
29

AAC Awareness Month

Audio Version of the AAC Awareness Blog  (4 mins)


Road barrier with red and yellow stripes and two round yellow lights with small sign “road closed”

I have heard comments like these. 

"She's stubborn or won't use the system."

"He thinks the iPad (with AAC app) is a toy." 

"He might break the device."

When I hear these, I immediately consider alternative interpretations:

She is not interested in what you are saying, doing, or requiring her to do.

You need to teach him or her how to use the device and provide engaging opportunities to communicate.

Install a secure case with a screen protector, consider mounting the device, or installing and utilizing a should strap or tether.

Observe, collect data, perform a task analysis and teach the necassary pieces that demonstrate the power of communication for each unique student!

What can you do?  Connect with the student!

Begin with determining what motivates the student. Connect with the student and family by using a Preference assessment for the family to expand. You may need to abbreviate and/or provide a visual vision (parents/caregivers can circle or check items rather than write out). Another idea would be for parents and caregivers to send a picture of favorite foods, items, activities, family members, places, etc.).

Learn how to model core vocabulary and then teach others!  Project-Core Professional Development has 12 free modules - Teaching Communication During Daily Routines and Activities Module (9 min video).

Give your students a reason to communicate instead of requiring the student to simply locate and identify icons/symbols (Yes, you will need to teach individual icons but make it fun). From the Communication Matrix (free online resource) - consider these four areas of communication:

Refuse - Teach students meaningful and more socially appropriate ways to say "no", "stop" or "I don't like this." Recognize/honor all of these messages from students and ensure access in each part of their communication system (their body, paper based, device).

Request - Provide opportunities for students to ask for things, people, repetition, more of something, commanding others, etc. Give them lots of practice!

Social - This one is essential. Most kids want to interact with peers yet complex communicators are often left out. There are numerous ways to get AAC users communicating with peers and others. Use the preference assessment information to incorporate into your student's communication system and then offer numerous opportunities for your student to share. Check out this resource for over 101 ideas for using voice output devices Single Message 101 Ideas  and Sequential Messages 101 Ideas.

Information - How can your students share and gain information? Make activities fun. Instead of focusing on simple rote tasks with the communication system, teach your student the power of sharing information (personal information, preferred activities, and asking questions).

AAC Awareness Month - many developers and companies with apps/software offer discounts in October.  

LAMP Words for Life®, TouchChat®, and Dialogue® AAC (50% off) - Oct 10-16

Assistiveware AAC Apps (extra month trial and 50% off) - Oct 11-17

If you have an AAC case you would like help with, request a FREE consultation with a PATINS AAC Specialist by completing our AAC Consultation FormYou will meet with one or more Specialists to review, brainstorm ideas, and generate a plan of action.

Continued professional development is vital for staying up with AT and AAC: Learn from presenters who use AAC at the free Connect With Me Conference sharing various topics. October 24-28 8-9pm ET.

Join us at the PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 2-3 at the Crowne Plaza Downtown - Union Station. Registration is open now!

Do you want to learn more? Check out the PATINS Training Calendar. If you don't see a training that meets your needs, look over the PATINS Professional Development Guide for inspiration. The guide offers summaries to some of our most popular in-person trainings and webinars developed by our team of specialists that are available year-round upon request. These are offered at no-cost for Indiana public LEA employees.

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Sep
21

Evaluate the Show or Be The Show?


Audio Version of this Blog (10 minutes, 38 seconds)

Lately, several happenings in my life have seemed to converge on this one particular topic that I find fascinating; one cannot actively evaluate the show and be the show at the same time! 

Daniel with a microphone, dressed up, dancing, smiling, singing with his daughter who also has a microphone and is dancing/spinning
When my oldest daughter was about 11 or 12 years old, she and I began taking voice lessons together. Our voice-coach felt it very important that her students perform for real live audiences periodically, and I recall the very first performance she required us to do. She had rented out the entire theatre on Main St., and the place was pretty full! It was a duet that we'd be performing and as it got closer, I was scared out of my mind and body sitting backstage with her! I spoke to crowds regularly for a living, for many years, I did not expect this sort of anxiety! I remember turning to my daughter and telling her, "I think I'm going to puke!" To which she responded, “Well, go out in the back alley and do it, but hurry up!” So, I tried. I was not successful and I came back in and sat next to her again. She said, "Take three slow deep breaths, you won’t be able to see anything except bright lights, you won’t see the people." "Think about the first 3 lines of the song only and then everything will be fine.” The very message she was actually conveying to me, at such a young age, was that focusing on the perception of the performance instead of the performance itself, was counter-productive! 

Lead singer of a blues band in a red dress with Daniel sitting on the drumset in the background      Daniel sitting at a red drumset with his right hand about to hit the ride cymbal and his right hand hitting the snare drum, looking off into the crowd 

Several years later, for my birthday, the amazing PATINS staff arranged to have dinner for me at a historic and awe-inspiring blues music location in Indianapolis, where I was not only treated to great tunes, I was eventually invited onto the stage by the powerful and amazing singer; yes, the PATINS staff repeatedly yelled that I was a drummer and that it was my birthday. Even though I hadn't sat at a drumset in years, I thought, "this will be fun and I'll just have a good time for a few seconds while they sing the birthday song to me." Well, they actually kicked right into one of their set-list songs and I had a decision to make immediately; give this smooth band a beat or don't! I did! I had a blast and was playing my heart out for about 3/4s of the song, when the lead singer turned away from the crowd, faced me, and gave me a nod of approval that went straight to my soul! Yes! ...then, in slow motion, I saw the drumstick in my right hand flying away...away... away...nooooooo! Indeed, a split moment after I received her approval, I started thinking about all the things she might have liked and what I could do next to really make the rest of the song rock, and those thoughts, while in the midst of performing, proved detrimental to my even finishing the song with any amount of dignity at all! This amazing singer stopped the show, turned around, and said, "that's why we hire professionals." We all had a good laugh, but she was right. A true professional separates evaluating from performing. Those two things cannot usually happen simultaneously while upholding optimal versions of either! 

A class of 6 people sitting on motorcycles all facing the same direction and in two lines,  in a parking lot, with all students practicing looking to the left.
Since that embarrassing accidental drumstick toss into the audience, I find myself spending a few weekends a month during the warmer seasons of Indiana coaching new riders to learn and apply the skills necessary to obtaining their Indiana motorcycle endorsement! During these classes, student ability and experience varies significantly, but the one thing that I've found holds absolutely true for all of them is that performance decreases the very moment they start to evaluate themselves and/or worry about my perception of them WHILE they are performing the exercise! This has been true for the brand new rider and for the rider who comes to me with 35 years of experience on motorcycles! I've started to make this a part of the class as well, as it most certainly applies to the pressures felt when out riding on the public roads. 

A concrete cinderblock welding booth with a stool, steel table, foot pedal, TIG welding torch and motorcycle helmet hanging on the wall. close up image of Daniel TIG welding with torch in his right hand and filler metal in his left hand with welding hood and gloves on
Image of one of Daniel's early TIG welds on stainless steel that is rainbow in color that looks like stacked dimes 
More recently yet, I've found myself on Wednesday and Friday nights from 6-11pm, inside a 4' x 8' cinderblock welding booth, trying my hardest to make beautiful welds using an electrode with 100amps in my right hand, feeding a 1/8" metal filler rod with my left hand, and my right foot on a variable control pedal constantly adjusting the strength of the electrical arc that is creating a flowing puddle of molten steel! It's a lot to type and a lot to think about! I find myself making worse and worse welds, the more I try to focus on the things like, "are my hands in the right place for the end of this stringer?" "Did my foot just let off unintentionally?" "Is that my left pinky that's starting to go numb?" "shoot, my teacher is going to point out that underfill for sure." In my mind, the more I tried to notice things like that as I went, the better I would become at improving them. The reality is that the more attention I paid to those sorts of things as I was welding, the worse my welds became! Attempting to critically evaluate, while performing the act, is not productive! 

a right hand on the home row of a mac computer keyboard in black and white
Finally, and most recently, I was having dinner with a couple of professors at Purdue this week, and this very topic came up, coincidentally! It was specific to finger tapping though, and the notion that one can typically tap at a much faster rate when they are not consciously aware of their tapping rate! If you are any sort of a typist using a traditional type of keyboard with your fingers starting on the home-row, etc., you may have noticed that you are able to type much more quickly when you are focused on the content, on the next idea, or on the composition as a whole, than you are when you are actively thinking about trying to type fast! This is the very same principle! One cannot usually type their fastest while they are actively focused on typing fast! Go ahead, give it a try right now! Try focusing entirely on typing quickly and then try typing and focusing on the content and compare!    

Right about now, in the school year, is when things always tended to start to become tiring for me as a teacher. And right about now, as we head into October, is often when things start to feel more burdensome as an administrator as well. I'm not entirely sure of all the reasons for that, but I know that as a state, we are in the midst of many changes, and thus as organizations, school corporations, and cooperatives, we find ourselves in the midst of change as well. Change can be difficult and scary, and sometimes very rightfully so! Regardless, the conclusion I've come to after having done this and gone through many changes for going on 17 years with the PATINS Project, and in consideration of the many other examples in my life ranging from drumming to welding, motorcycling, and singing, is that spending your time, energy, and cognitive power on trying to evaluate and/or guess at the perception of others WHILE trying to perform my best, isn't the most productive.

I can either evaluate the show or I can be the show, but I cannot do both optimally at the same time. 


old photo of Daniel as a 2 or 3 year old, walking in denim overalls with one strap falling off, a tricycle front wheel and a 1980's pickup truck in the background.
So, now, regardless of what it is that I'm tackling, I try to be this much younger version of myself... head down, entirely focused on the task at hand, and trusting that any necessary feedback or evaluation will come from someone else afterward! I try hard to: 
  1. Be prepared. I try to make sure that I ask as many clarifying questions as I can to help myself feel ready. 
  2. Not spend so much time preparing that I'm no longer taking care of my sleep, exercise, relaxation, and nutritional needs. 
  3. Conscientiously pause before beginning.
  4. Take a couple of very slow and deep breaths.
  5. I tell myself that it's OK to feel nervous or anxious and I welcome those feeling and I embrace the energy they can give me.  
  6. Instead of dwelling on everything that MIGHT go wrong, I try to drum up positive energy and remember that my performance will almost always be a diminished version of my best if I am evaluating WHILE I'm doing! 
  7. I trust that people around me will provide the necessary evaluation and then I can start all over, but I know that keeping the evaluative part and the performance part separate will ultimately be the most beneficial! 
  8. I also try to expect this sort of performance from those I'm interacting with! “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal, R., and E. Y. Babad. 1985. Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership 43 (1): 36–39)
In your work with Indiana students and educators; try focusing on the above 7 steps. Try this concept out with just one small task this next week or over the weekend and see what happens. When it comes to trying to problem solve for a particular student who might be struggling, for example, allow the PATINS staff to be the observers while you dedicate all of your focus on the performance, and trust that we'll provide the follow-up input! Then, you can begin the process of asking more clarifying questions, preparing, embracing anxiety, letting go of trying to evaluate while performing, and just giving it another shot, entirely focused on the performance itself! We can help, but none of us can simultaneously be the show while we're trying to evaluate the show! Make us part of your team for optimal performance! 

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