TRANSCRIPT: 3 Strategies for Using AAC to Foster Student Authenticity and Self-Advocacy (feat. Rachael Langley from Eaton RESA)
3:16PM Mar 15, 2022
The Disability Rights Movement is kind of one of the last human rights movements to really push forward. But it does sound so obvious that we have to believe at our core that everyone has thoughts and feelings regardless of their perceived abilities or their disability. But for so long, we've kind of looked at a certain segment of the population said, Well, they're not talking. And they get segmented into a separate program, a separate classroom, a separate group. And oftentimes, they're not given those same opportunities. So in this, this movement that really has gained some speed with reset technology development that we can now provide technology much more affordably and easily. I hope we're giving a lot more kids that opportunity to have that access, and have the same opportunities as their peers.
I'm Nikki Herta and this is bright stories of hope and innovation in Michigan classrooms, a podcast where we celebrate our state's educators and explore the future of learning. Bright is brought to you in part by Meemic insurance company, insuring the educational community for more than 70 years. teachers and school employees visit meemic.com/quote to see how much you can save. In today's episode of bright a chat with Rachel Langley, a speech language pathologist and an AAC consultant for Eaton Risa. Rachel breaks down what AAC are augmentative and alternative communication is and why it's so important for students if don't have enough words, but their natural speech to express all of their thoughts. She eloquently argues for why communication is a fundamental human right. Particularly the ability to express our feelings or wants or needs, perhaps most crucially, a refusal. And of course, Rachel offers three strategies for using AAC to foster authenticity and self advocacy among students. All right, Rachel, it's a pleasure to have you on the right podcast today. Thank you so much for joining me.
Thanks for having me. Yeah,
we're starting off the season asking everybody can you tell me about the most interesting project that you're working on right
now? Sure, I have an opportunity through my role within the schools to support professional learning for teachers, therapists and other people who support students who have real intense communication difficulties. And I know we'll talk a lot more about AAC as we go. But the conference is called Talking AAC or hashtag talking AAC is that if you see it online or around, but the purpose of that conference is to provide best practice information to people who are really new to the field of AAC and supporting students in the classroom, in therapy sessions. And while it might seem like a small need, or a small field that really is has a lot of depth to it, when you talk about the different types of ways we use, communication supports, how it ties into literacy, and kids learning to read and write, when they're not able to speak. There's a lot of topics. So we offer a really rich kind of menu of professional development, and topics and it happens every year. In the fall, usually October or November, would you
want to give us just a brief just in case somebody listening doesn't know what AAC is. I want to just break that down for us. And really briefly, we'll dig into it more later. But
absolutely. So AAC is stands for augmentative and alternative communication. And that's just a really long term. That means any type of tool we use to help others communicate when they their natural speech isn't enough.
Yes, that's great. And what what kind of students tend to use this technology?
So the typical student who might use AAC is someone who just doesn't have enough words to express all their thoughts. So sometimes that's students who have cerebral palsy or motor disorders where they just don't have the muscle strength in their mouth to make the speech sounds that typically developing students would, but they have the same thoughts. They have the same ideas, and hopefully they have the same learning opportunities as their peers, but they need a way to express and communicate the things they're hearing what things are thinking things are learning. We also have many autistic students who are supported by AAC as well. Where there's different There's just different way of processing that sometimes you can't understand or the frustration of getting things out and being understood. We provide equipment and resources and the tools to help them have many ways to communicate and get things out. There's others, of course, as well, there's other students that have either congenital differences or a cognitive disability, that we just maybe don't even know the source. But we believe that our core that everyone is a sinking feeling person that has the right to have a voice and be able to express themselves. And AAC is a term that describes all the different tools that allow a student to communicate. So that might be a paper based, you know, point to the picture that represents what you're thinking or what you're feeling. And that might be an electronic device that has voice output for them. So they can choose and select their message, and it speaks on behalf of them. So those are some examples of what it looks like. There's lots of variety, and I'm sure I didn't include everybody there. But those are, those are some common uses for AAC in the schools. That's great.
Thank you. Um, yeah, when you describe it in that way, it's so you know, it's easy when you hear those these big terms to get lost in like, oh, you know, but when it's giving every literally giving every child a voice, we talk a lot about voice and choice and education, but ensuring that they have, if they don't have the words that they have the ability to communicate to their fullest, you know, that's great. So yeah,
oh, without getting too philosophical about it there. I mean, the disability rights movement is kind of one of the last human rights movements to really push forward. But it does sound so obvious that we have to believe at our core that everyone has thoughts and feelings, regardless of their perceived abilities or their disability. But for so long, we've kind of looked at a certain segment of the population and said, Well, they're not talking. And they get segmented into a separate program, a separate classrooms, a separate group. And oftentimes, they're not given the same opportunities. So in this, this movement that really has gained some speed with recent technology development, that we can now provide technology much more affordably and easily. I hope we're giving a lot more kids that opportunity to have that access, and have the same opportunities as your peers.
You know, it's funny, I didn't make this connection until right now. And you would have thought that I would have. But there's actually like, a really profound story about this in my family that I had forgotten about, I guess probably is my dad's cousins, a second cousin. His name was Jimmy Brooks. And he had severe cerebral palsy, and he unfortunately passed away before I was born. But he was like whip smart had a like a photogenic memory, or whatever you call it. And his dad was an engineer. And he built him basically, a little way to communicate with he could move one part of his body, I think his foot like one foot and made it so he could touch, you know, he could communicate. And it ended up he got involved with some programs through MSU. And this was, I don't remember the exact date in the 80s or 90s, probably. And he got to work with them and developing some technology. And the first thing he said, it was like, I think it was video recorded. I found a YouTube video of it was something like if we can put a man on the moon, why can't people like me speak? Wow. And that was he was like 26 years old. And that was the first time he had been able to like, actually have a full sentence like that without you know, you know, tapping with his foot.
Yeah, that's incredible. And I might know some of those other pieces putting that puzzle together. I went to Michigan State and I had a graduate course in AC. I did not know your second cousin. But I had a professor Dr. John eulenburg, who has been part yeah, for a long, long time. And that was his passion in like the 80s. Literally computers were like the size of a room back then. And that's probably what your cousin access is part of they called it then at Michigan State the artificial language lab. There's some video out there on YouTube. He and one of his I don't think it was your cousin but another kind of client or patient did the first computer supported pizza order out of the lab at Michigan State University and it's seriously almost like this black and white film they recorded. And you know, this really early computer voice and the guy he got hung up on the first three or four calls because you know you hear This weird computer voice in 1983, or whatever it was. So they essentially learned that the first thing you have to say when you're making a call with a computer and 1983 is, I use this computer to help me communicate, please don't hang up. And then you could go forward and say, Oh, to order a pizza, please bring it to MSU. Dr. Illuma was also part of like a 2020 story they did. Dr. eulenburg is Jewish, he was supporting a young Jewish boy who wanted to take part in the traditional Bar Mitzvah experience. And part of that was like singing parts of the Torah traditions I'm not familiar with. But he did that same, like, hey, let's see what you can do. And he could use part of his foot, and they made this, you know, controller, and he accessed it, and they figured out the technology. So that kind of came up singing and all this was back again, 40 years ago, I mean, now we look at that we we have technology that to make those things a bit easier that you can have things in your pocket that do that were before it was, it was a labor, it was it was a lot of work. But fascinating stories that are kind of the foundation of this field that's now kind of gaining some speed, hopefully, in both its awareness of how aware people are that technology like that exists, but also in the availability of that technology.
Could you just give us a few examples of what this AAC might look like? I know, you talked to the pen and paper one, but are there some different commonly used, like technology based tools? Yeah.
Since the advent of the iPad, that has been a primary tool to support access to communication for a lot of kids. And we often have people asking, Well, what about either Android or some non Apple platform. And the truth is, there just isn't a lot out there. There is one company who's made an open source software. He himself as a dad, kind of from Silicon Valley, who had a child with severe communication disabilities. And so he's created a program that's called cough drop that's cloud based. And that can run on any kind of device. But the most common tool on platform is using an iPad based system. There are probably five or six of the most common programs that we use within the schools quite a bit to support kids. And the thing that they have in common is that they're what we call grid based. So they can almost look like a keyboard and a way, but instead of having letters on every button, there's symbols, because our learners are often pre symbolic, they haven't yet learned how to read. So instead of having a word there will have a small symbol that represents the word that button will speak. So there's, there's differences and philosophies about how those programs are organized. But one of the most common ones we hear used quite a bit is called Proloquo. To go. It's, it's more user friendly, it's it's available on the App Store. Another is called Touch chat. And there's another called LAMP Words for Life. In between those three, that represents a lot of the tools that I use, right now in the schools, sometimes we have teens who are really nervous, some of our kids really get obsessive about technology, and they see an iPad, and they just think YouTube and games and all the fun things they normally do. And so we'll try to brand the device and say, This is not an iPad, this is a talker, or this is a some people call their voice, this is your voice or, you know, put it on unique case. And it only has that communication program on there. Because we really can't make a child picked between fun things and learning to communicate. Because learning to communicate is to work, it's not coming naturally, there is a big payoff. And we know that but for kids, we're learning it there, there's always that pull to something else. So to take that away, we just put the one communication tool and make their fun stuff available on another device so that they can ask for and they can talk about it. And they can say, Look at this cool video I found or whatever they need, they need both. But sometimes we also use those same symbols, but just print them out on paper and laminate it and say, Okay, this can be available with you everywhere on a field trip, you can go in your backpack and get broke, and you can go to the pool. And I can still point to those pictures. If you've learned the meaning of that. That's a nice stand in or kind of a low tech, easy on the go support.
Some Thank you. That's really helpful to be able to visualize it. So I can link out to to some of those examples that you gave of the popular apps in the show notes too. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about, you know, your journey of education. And maybe you could start with, you know, was there a vivid moment that you can remember just really seeing the power of this work or falling in love with education, and, you know, wanting to contribute in this way?
Sure. So, my mom was a teacher, but she was kind of a non traditional student, she went back when I was probably an elementary to middle school, and started teaching. And so at that age, I would kind of help her a lot or go to school a lot. And I think I already knew I wanted to be in some kind of helping field or education, but wanted to find something that was a little more specialized. And so when I started working, and observing Speech, Language Pathologists, I thought, Okay, I think this is a good fit for me. And the more I got into it, it really put pieces together that were interest to me both like English and language, but education, and disabilities. And so that was kind of how those pieces fell together. And I really liked the specialized nature that there are really, there's no two kids that come to you, as a speech language pathologist, we have everything from kids that need help pronunciation articulation disorders, to language disorders, have kids who are speaking but are still learning vocabulary or how to put words in the correct order, then it wouldn't really kind of clicked for me. Especially as in my career, I started supporting more and more complex kids. And less and less of those, hey, this child just needs to work on there are sound and more specific to students with what we call complex communication needs. And that's kind of a term that the population themselves came up with to say, we don't want to be called nonverbal. We don't want to be called. You know, we don't want someone to say like, nonverbal means non speaking or implies non thinking. But we have complex needs, we have ideas, we have thoughts, but we can get them out in some way. And so my, my caseload at the schools I worked in became more and more complex, where I had to learn different strategies, that meant, I'm not teaching you how to say certain sounds, you're probably your body's probably not going to use sound speech sounds as your most efficient way to communicate. So let's look at some other strategies. And the real kind of aha moment. And the piece that grabs you is when you're providing other means whether that's a device or picture symbols, and you've done instruction to help them understand how it works, and they start using it. And they give you a look, that look of like, yeah, that's what I meant. And that kind of affirms that their understanding the purpose of the tool, and their understanding that they have another way to get their, their message out, without waiting for an adult to guess and figure out what it is that they need. So that that moment that spark, whether it's in their their eye, or a little smile, really is kind of what fuels me because so many of our kids can't tell us in the same way, what they're thinking or if we're, if we're on the right track, seeing that little spark, even in some of my students who have very little muscle control over their, their body, you might see just this little like eyebrow twitch of like, Ah, yes, that's what I meant. That's really kind of the moment that helps keep fueling me to keep going. Because it's sometimes rough, difficult work that we're doing. But finding that spark, seeing that kind of confirmation that we're someone has been understood, and they understand the purpose of these tools is, is what fuels me.
I was just thinking, you know, the way you just described, it made me feel so much empathy, because, you know, like I said, I'm a, I'm a writer by trade before I got into this podcast business. And so, to me, you know, being able to communicate, I was just thinking about how, you know, I love poetry and being able to precisely communicate authentically, what I'm feeling. And I was just imagining what that might feel like to like to have just that same urge, but to not have the ability not have it like to have it blocked from you the ability to do so and how painful that would be. And so being given an outlet to do it, I can imagine just you can see it the light in their eyes, like yes, you know, it's like when you get a word perfectly on the page, just that like yes, there. That's it. Yeah.
I have one moment where I went to see a little girl who was about four years old at the time. I actually still follow her and she's, I think a fifth or sixth grader now. But she was just a little four year old. We don't really know why what what they're doing About her as a person, but she was non-speaking, she had a few things going on. But no, like, she didn't fit into any little box. But from our interactions with her, you knew she was understanding what you're saying. And she could use pointing and gesture to kind of show you things. But speech was very difficult. And so as I just brought the first time a device to kind of look at trial with her and show her, you know, when a little preschool classroom and, and touching and pointing and she kind of takes it, and also the feelings or comments page, I think it was, and you can see she's touching and listening to each button. And then she finds one that says, Go away. And she just looked up, looked at her teacher went and just like gave a little shoe shoe movement with her hand. And that same little eyebrow, that little spark in her eye, like, Oh, I like this button, I can tell you to go away, like give me some space. And it is it's those little moments like, Ah, okay, we've given you another way. Because without that, how do kids like her make their wants and needs known? Well, guess what they're pushing kids away, they're, you know, they're smacking at people or they're using their behavior, because that's really effective. If you push somebody away, kids give you a little more space. But it's harder to develop friendships, when that's the way you're communicating, I need some space. So to give that little tool and watch that little spark go as she's like, Oh, go away, I'm gonna use that one a lot. The trick comes in when we are in schools, and a lot of what we, as teachers and therapists and educators are trying to promote and support is, is more of a here's what we do at school, it's kind of this compliance, like, your job is to sit in the seat and listen, and ask questions. But you know, there's a role of a student that really isn't telling someone to stop or go away or you know, so that's that push pull where we want to make the words available, but also talk about like, when to use them, like, if someone is really in your space, or it's important have that for self advocacy. But you also have to respect that sometimes the teacher has to come give you your snack or help you tie your shoe and things like that. So
that makes sense, in a way, right? Because, you know, we all do, you have to learn that when we start using the responsibility of language, once you start learning how to use it, they just maybe have learned a little bit later, you know, if they're learning it at a different age, if they didn't have those tools at home before, you know, so
and it kind of follows a typical developmental sequence. Like if you've ever met a two year old, they love to say, no, no, no, no, no. Well, a lot of times when we have a student, they might not be too they might be four, or five or six, but they've just now had access to communication for the first time. And they find that no button, they will just sit there and be like, no, no, no, no. And it can be irritating as the adults who are trying to say, Okay, I hear you, but but that's a typical developmental sequence that when kids learn power of their language that they can tell somebody No. And they get a pretty quick response to that, that that's powerful and engaging. And that's just a step of development. So
I think it's kind of interesting, because one of the most recent episodes we've recorded, I was talking to your therapist about boundaries, right? And so there's something that they're right about saying no. And it's interesting, if you think about it, when we're to or, you know, whenever these kids get access to saying no, whatever age that might be, we love to say it. And then we kind of train ourselves not to say it, you know, we train ourselves to that. There's something interesting, there are about one, what are natural impulses, to when we learn to kind of comply, and to not express our needs. So
well, there's, I mean, I will just share a little bit real quick, because when you talk about that compliance piece, there's fundamental differences between a language like a cognitive linguistic model of teaching, communication, versus a compliance and behavior based model. And I feel that cognitive linguistic one is so important. But what we see happening a lot is there are other funding sources for different types of therapy that are behavior and compliance based. And in that case, the communication is taught more as a as a behavior, right? It's the behavior like I say, Do you want this or what do you want and you say, I want this. It's kind of a closed, there's just limited choices. It's a behavioral act, and It is a it's a compliance task. And it's it's training that might make kids look successful at certain tasks. But it's not engaging that cognitive linguistic model of learning. And it takes away their autonomy to say, you can say you want that, or you can say, I don't want, I don't like that I'm all done. Kids with disabilities, especially kids who are nonspeaking, are one of the most vulnerable populations because they can't report what's happened to them. And as scary as that sounds, it's a real, it's a very real reality that a lot of parents are very aware of. And when I switched from kind of a general caseload to supporting just students were largely nonspeaking, I realized parents were a lot more, there was a lot more energy, you know, I can't think of the right word. But a lot of our meetings were a lot more intense and emotional. And parents were really validly concerned, they wanted to know, what was what their child's day look like, because their child just can't tell them. And so I think there's it, we have to think about the potential danger and teaching a compliance based model to students who already are pretty vulnerable, in teaching them that their job is to do what the adult tells them to do, and that their job is to use their words to tell us what they want or don't want. Yeah,
that makes, I mean, it makes a whole lot of sense when you start talking about it like that. And it makes me think of to you know, how the intentionality behind what you said with, you know, calling these students nonverbal, like, I can see why they might not want to be called that, because what they are actively trying to do with this technology is to communicate, so if you call them non verbal, you're, you know, it's like completely the opposite of what they're really desperately trying to do.
It really does dig into the Linguistics of it. But verbal means words, it's not speaking, you know, verbal is language. And they are trying to access language in a different way. So they're not technically nonverbal. They're not speaking. Or they're, sometimes we say, multimodal communicators, because we have some students who can say, I don't know about your cousin, but they could say like, yeah, you know, there are some things you can get out verbally, or there's some things you can shake your head, and that's universally understood. So there, it's not all supported. And that's where are the name of augmentative. and Alternative Communication. augmentative means there are some things I can do with my speech, maybe I can give single word answers. But I need to augment my speech by saying, Yes, I want the purple cup, but the straw is missing. And so I don't want to use that one today, or whatever, you know, where's the rest of it that I can't say with my natural speech, or just by pointing Where's alternative is for some of our, our students who really have no means to communicate no verbal speech, maybe a profound motor disability where they have no use of their no neck control, no use of their hands and legs. And it really is an alternative, like they need a different way to communicate. So I know, I wish it were a more concise term that wasn't easier to explain. But there is a reason it's a MC because it is there's a broad population we're supporting. So
Well, that's the power of you know, acronyms, once you know what it means. It's very concise. So yeah, I was just thinking, and we'll we can dig in, I don't want to, you know, make sure we get time for that too. But that it's not just about language, you know, it's about, you know, like you said, autonomy, and language is our ability to take what's inside us and communicated outwardly. And so it makes sense, the way you're describing it, that you're not just teaching language. And so that's not like the only language is, in a way I love language. But you know, it's a tool to express something different and to express your autonomy and to express your needs, and to connect with others. And so it makes sense that you have to teach it, you know, we have to think carefully about how we're teaching, especially these very vulnerable people how to use it, because if you do it in a way, that's more compliance space, you're not really in fostering that autonomy.
Yeah. And I think the understanding, we're not totally there yet. Some people are so excited to have the equipment that they come and they say, Okay, here's what I want this device to say. I want six buttons and I want to say I am thirsty. I'm hungry. I'm all done. I want grandpa you know, and they have, they want each button to say kind of a set certain set of sentences because they know those things are personally important to their child, or theirs. soon. And while I understand that, it's limiting that that might work for those six moments, but what about the time you don't want that? Or what about? You know, there's so many other things to communicate about, we try to find that balance to say, there might be some things you say you need to say real quick, where it's all in one button. But we also to give the power of language, that's the power of combining words however you want. And that can be adding that we're not like, I do not want milk today. I you know, I want juice. So it is it's, it's probably one of the things I work on most honestly, is I'm not directly working with the students I know. I believe that students have the capacity to learn. I'm working with the adults and how to help them know how best to teach those kids because technology is an amazing tool. But the availability of technology for AAC has outpaced the availability of the professional learning. So oftentimes, it's not the fault of staff, if they just get a kid that comes in and they all they have a device they're using it the best way they can. But we are fortunate to live in a time when most school districts or counties are establishing a position like mine, so there's somebody to come and provide that guidance.
I'm Nikki Herta and you're listening to bright stories of hope and innovation in Michigan classrooms. Brian is brought to you in part by Meemic insurance company, insuring the educational community for more than 70 years. teachers and school employees visit meemic.com/quotes to see how much you can save. today I'm chatting with Rachel Langley, a speech language pathologist and AAC consultant for Eaton Risa. Up next, we dive into Rachel's top three tips for using AAC to foster authenticity, and self advocacy among students. Let's let's dig into our three tips. Do you want to start with number one for us?
Sure. So number one, if I have a student who's learning to communicate in a different way, I want to make sure they have access to a lot of words. So there's sometimes this instinct to just say, I'm just going to give them two words, because right now we're just talking about this. So I'm just gonna give them words for this. But what we know from doing this for a while and seeing how different systems work, kids need access to all the words, as little kids typically developing kids are growing up, we speak all the words around them, and they have the ability to practicing them back. So our kids were learning a different way need access to a lot of words, and they are gonna kind of babble and practice saying them back until they learn which words work at which point in their day. So tip number one is give them lots of words, if you think six is a lot, sit next to a typically developing four year old for a little while and think of how many words they say in an hour. It's a lot more than that. There's a lot of variety there. So just avoid that that roadblock of wanting to limit or pick the words for someone else. That's way too much responsibility. I don't want to say, here are the only things that you make, you're going to be able to say today, I'm going to pick your list for you. That's just let's give them as many words as possible. That's number one. Yeah,
I can see how that would be kind of counterintuitive at first, right? Because you think, Okay, we'll start with this, and then we'll expand it. But you're kind of saying, no, no, no. They already know like that. Because they can comprehend a lot of things. And so let's give them a big arena to play in so they can express themselves.
Yeah. And how did typically developing kids learn when to say things, a lot of it's kind of play and babble. So they might not understand all the words at first, but through practice and reinforcement. And that kind of leads to number two, if I can jump into the next one is how kids learn what all those buttons mean. And this is a tip for the adults is we as the adults need to also use that same equipment. Because if we're speaking to them with our natural voice and asking them to speak back to us with this technology, we're really asking kids to code switch, when I'm going to speak to with my voice, and you're going to use that thing to talk back to me. It's putting a lot more of the work on the learner, we already know has communication difficulties. So from step one, we want to take that pressure off of like, you don't have to learn how to do this. We're gonna learn how to do this. So I'm gonna come next to you and if I'm gonna say, time to go to recess, I'm going to come next to your device. And I might not find all those words, but I might find the two words that fit best and say, time together. Oh, and I'm going to touch your device and say time to go. And then I'm going to say the sentence with my natural voice, it's time to go to recess. So I'm joining in with you, and that learning of the technology, and showing you how to kind of translate that what that spoken speech could look like, here. It's so important, because if you as an adult sit in front of one of these devices, with 60 buttons on it, you're gonna feel the same, like this is a lot, it takes some time to orient to where things are, well, our kiddo is going to feel that thing feeling. So let's join in with them and learn together, model it for them demonstrate how to use it throughout the day, and they will, they will start to use it back.
And I can imagine to just the act of trying it, you'd probably get just get more of that empathy. You know, because once you it's literally kind of stepping into someone else's shoes. For a second, you realize, oh, boy, this is hard, you know, and might even just subtly give you more like appreciation for the you know, all the effort that they're putting in to communicate with you. Absolutely. All right, want to give us your third tip here.
Yes, number three is build an opportunities in their day for them to practice saying no, in ways that are safe. So if it's somebody who needs support with like, feeding or going to the bathroom, those are not the times I'm going to practice that right away, I'm gonna build in other times in the day, because there are some kids who maybe they don't like help being helped to be fed or to be changed. And they will protest, we want to understand that. But we also have to change, we can't let kids sit and soiled clothes and things like there's some things we need to do. So don't start with that. But let's start with some other places to say, you know, do you want to sit here? Do you want to sit here? Yes or No? If it's not, then okay, we're gonna sit over here giving some choice in control is so important, because again, depends on the learner. But a lot of times, they don't have as much choice and control, they don't have control over communicating the way a lot of kids do. And sometimes mobility is also another limitation. So giving as much choice and control, including allowing them to practice those refusals and safe ways, is really powerful. Because we want them to know their role isn't to just say, yes, and be compliant. Their role as a thinking feeling human is to tell us how they're feeling. And if it's times when we can't, we can't honor that we slept have that conversation of it's time to get on the bus. No, well, school's over, all your other friends are getting on the bus, you know, we can have that conversation and say, You can be the last one in line to get on your boss. But we have to go on that that's how we get home. But still giving them the opportunity. That doesn't mean, as I've had conversations with staff, sometimes they just want to hide any race the No button, or they want to, you know, gosh, they're talking about monster trucks all day long. Will you just turn we're gonna erase that button off for it. So we don't talk about it. We can't erase words from a typically developing kid. We have some kids that will come in and talk about Pokemon or whatever, all day long. But we just redirect them all day. That's just what typically, you know, we're not talking about Pokemon. Right now. It's calendar time. Right now we're talking about calendar, but we can talk about Pokemon every choice time. Same thing with our kids who use AAC, and maybe become really excited, enthusiastic when they find one of their favorite things, and are just like a monster truck, monster truck. Okay, I know you're like monster trucks. But right now we're talking about this. So just honoring the fact that they have the right to refuse. They have the right to access all the words, including their favorite words, and we shouldn't be deleting words from their world, but respond to them as we would typically developing kids that do talk with their natural speech.
Wow. Yeah, I was just thinking that, like, I could see how right you know, if you've got, you said it follows a developmental sequence. So if you have a kid who's just learning and they're kind of, you know, not intentionally, but just they're saying no to things that they have to do, or they're talking about things like talking about monster trucks or Pokemon when you know a lot and you don't want to you might be you don't want to hear it. It would be tempting, you know, and I'm sure it happens, you know, with either parents or teachers to take that device away or limit them but it's like how it goes back to the heart of what you're saying the importance of negative language and I've been able to say no, and having consent and autonomy. And so in this case with this kids, you know, you called it their voice their iPad. You know, it might be tempting at times if they're not behaving in the way you want them to, to take it away. But you really, you know, you can't do that. Because what does that do to a kid? have that taken away from them when it can't happen to other white kids? So
there's a federal grant project, that whole, the whole purpose of it was to say, what if I'm a teacher, and either don't have enough speech time or my SLP isn't skilled in AAC, but I have kids who are just not communicating? What do I do? In that practice called Project core? Again, I'll share that link with you. In its research based practice that's identified 36 words to start with their high frequency words, their words, we say, you might say it at the bus or at recess, or things like go want stop, in out on off words that aren't specific to any, like topic or theme or anything, but they're flexible words we use all day long. So not only do they have a board, you can just print out and start with, they have a whole series of short recorded professional learning that are 15 to 20 minutes on how to use a they call it universal core board. So universal being you can use it anywhere. Core being these are like the core high frequency words we use, if you record any adult speech 80% of what we say is actually really small set of words, you know, and then the other 20% Are those we call infringe. But the nouns telescope, you know, analog, but 80% of what we say is a pretty small set of words. So we're focusing on those high frequency words. And there is, again, the professional pre recorded learning that is available to any teacher, if you've not had a student like this, or the training, it gives you a nice starting place. And again, it's all research based, and it's free, because it was developed out of a federal grant. So I'll share that link with you. That's a great starting place. Another book I know a lot of educators have read, it's really designed for, like a young adult, like maybe a fifth grade kind of reading level is called out of my mind. And it is a fictional story about a little girl who has cerebral palsy and has been placed in a separate classroom, because she can't speak. And eventually they find a way to help her communicate. And they learn a lot of things about her. So I won't spoil that story for you. But I did just see I follow a lot of AAC groups online. And I did just see a casting call that they are trying to make it into a movie. So I'm excited that one's been around for a little while. And it's cute. It's, it's it's a serious topic. And it's a very realistic story. But it's young, adult kid based enough that you know, there's fart jokes and things in there that I've seen it used as like a read aloud before of, hey, you know what, we have a student in our classroom who uses a wheelchair and use a communication device. You know, this is a way it's almost like a sensitivity training, like, let's read a story about this and kind of encourage more empathy and among peers to take some perspective taking and think about what life could be like, if you were not able to express your results. The last resource I really wanted to mention is called the communication Bill of Rights. There is a group called the National joint committee for persons with severe communication disabilities. And it's an organization that's cross disciplinary. So there's people from the National speech organization, the National OT, PT, pediatrics, seven or eight different groups have people sitting on this committee, and they've all reflected at first came out in the 90s. And they've since modified it, I think, in 2016. But they've identified what they consider 15 essential human rights for people with communication disabilities, and they've called it the communication Bill of Rights. And it starts with things like every person has the right to request things, but also everyone has the right to refuse things. But it also includes the 15 things we really don't think about, like every person has a right to be talked to and now about so sometimes the adults in the room have a conversation about someone who's literally right there, you're talking about them. Well, they can't do this and they didn't like that and they didn't. They're right here like let's include them in that conversation. And at least respect the fact you wouldn't like it if someone was talking about you right next to you. Let's Let's respect that that right that they have to be included in conversation. But also the right to be provided with the equipment that they need to communicate and the people overtrained and knowing how to use it. So if you look through those 15 rights, it really can spur a lot of great conversations about what how do we do
as a school, as a community, or even as just as a classroom, in honoring these rights and our students with communication disabilities,
thank you so much for sharing those resources, I will definitely link out to all of them in the show notes, if anybody wants to take a deeper dive. So I'm thinking, you know, if I was an educator, I might think like, oh, man, this is like, there's a lot here that I could dig into. Right? Like, and I guess I would just be curious to know your perspective on like, what advice would you give a teacher? Like, how much should they know about this? Is their Do you think this should be incorporated more into pre service? Teacher programs? Is this do they have to know everything? Or is it like, you know, I would advise that you if you have a student with this need, you get in touch with the consultant to the speech pathologist at your school? Like, what advice would you give a teacher if they're feeling a little overwhelmed by all this?
Big picture, the best advice and Kevin most success I have when I work with teams, is when the teacher first and foremost sees that student, as one of their students. That alone just get through a lot of the barriers that sometimes come up through learning this, this really specialized way to communicate. And by that, I mean, if you see that student, and you say, Oh, they're just here for XYZ time, but they are really, that's a special ed kid, or that's a program kid, or that kind of creates a barrier. And kids can sense that your classmates sense that. So the first and foremost, if you can just accept them in as part of your classroom and invite all and ask for all the support you need to make that successful is just step one, you can't know all of this. I've worked exclusively in AAC for a while now. And I still have stuff I'm learning, but to have the right people there to support you and say, Okay, here's how we're going to make this. We're going to break this into small steps or small bites, so it doesn't feel so overwhelming. I guess pre service, that's my biggest hope is that people will just understand that all kids regardless of communication, disability, again, our thinking feeling kids just want to belong and be heard and be understood. And making sure your classroom is a supportive environment that's welcoming to that and that the classmates understand that we all communicate differently. But we were all the same basic human rights and human needs want to be heard and want to fit in.
So one last question for you. Could you tell me about a teacher who had an impact on your life,
I think I've been fortunate that I've had a lot of people, mentor and coach me throughout my professional career. And so those are the people that come to mind most when I think about a teacher has really impacted me. And I think my shift from being kind of a general speech language pathologist and to someone who focused more on AAC. I had some great colleagues who helped shape my thinking. It's really to identify just one but the approach of respecting each child's communication autonomy really comes from a specific approach. And I I'd like to credit my, my friend, teacher colleague, Laura Taylor, is one of those people. She is a trainer and an advocate for kids with communication disabilities, and an educator herself. And I appreciate wisdom from people like Laura, who have really, like I said, helped shaped my thinking, and our great sounding board when I like, how does this sound and we only people like that who will both mentors and trainers but also help stretch our thinking and grow our practice.
Without a doubt, it's challenging work to ensure every student with complex communication needs and our education system has the tools, autonomy, and support. They need to fully express their thoughts and feelings and advocate for themselves. But with leaders like Rachel forging our path forward, if there's one thing we're certain of, it's at the future is bright. You know, someone who's an inspiring Michigan educator should be featured on our show. Send us an email At bright at Michigan virtual.org to let us know who they are, and why we should innovate. Thank you for joining us for this episode of bright stories of hope and innovation in Michigan classrooms. This podcast is produced by Kirby Gaylord is hosted by me, Mickey Herta is shaped by many of our passionate and talented colleagues. Big thanks to an Perez Tiryns Wilkerson, Anna Boyer, Sarah Hill, and Brandon Battista for their contributions to this episode. Bright is brought to you in part by Meemic insurance company, insuring the educational community for more than 70 years. teachers and school employees visit meemic.com/quote to see how much you can save. The bright podcast is made possible by Michigan Virtual, a nonprofit organization that's leading and collaborating to build learning environments for tomorrow. Education is changing faster than ever. Discover new models and resources to move learning forward at your school at Michigan virtual.org.