Demonstrating knowledge without an Augmentative Communication Device

Many children talk to communicate. However, for some children talking may not be their primary form of communication. Reasons for this vary.  Regardless of the reason, it is important to find a way for each child to communicate.

A colleague and I were recently called in for a consultation to observe and work with a young school age child. Other professionals who worked with this child were unsure of what he was capable of during the school day. We went into the school to observe this child. We noticed that the lack of certainty about this child’s abilities seemed primarily due to two things: (a) The child was demonstrating challenging behavior in the classroom that interfered and (b) that this child, at six years old, was not speaking and had no effective and assessable way to communicate in that classroom. Despite his lack of speech, it was soon very clear that this child was attempting to communicate with methods other than speech such as eye contact, pointing, vocal sounds, and unfortunately his challenging behavior. He also demonstrated difficulty with fine motor skills, which affected his ability to write or use sign language. Quickly we realized that this child was in desperate need of a way to effectively and easily communicate.

What we first did was create some simple materials to see what this child knew and what he could communicate. To begin, I made templates of 2x2 pictures that were images of items in his environment. These images were pictures of items he might request or talk about throughout the school day. I then made similar templates with pictures that represented numbers, money, letters, etc. to see if he could demonstrate his mastery of such academic skills without the use of speech or written work. After making the materials we presented them to the child. For the environmental pictures, we began handing him words and told him to “match” them. He quickly matched all words. We performed similar informal assessments using visual materials to see if this child could sequence his letters and numbers, pick out his name, and answer basic personal information questions about himself. This child quickly began demonstrating that he, in fact, can find his name, sequence his letters and numbers and answer some questions by pointing to this response.

For now, we are using the visuals to continue the assessments. Giving this child a different want to demonstrate his knowledge is allowing us to create appropriate goals for him, and therefore reduce his frustration in the classroom. We have also begun to use the environmental pictures and words as a temporary communication system of sorts. We have found success in him pointing to Yes and No cards, more/all done, and other environmental pictures such as drink. Soon, we intend to seek out an augmentative communication device that will fit his individual needs. From what we have already seen, we will recommend that this device will either allow him to type out words or to find the pictures to tell us what he is trying to say. We are hopeful that such an alternative will allow this child to ‘speak’ to us. He has already begun. When we saw him this week, we said Hello to him and waved. He quickly grabbed a few of the letter tiles we had made for him and spelled out “Hi.” Hi, indeed!

 

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