• Jennifer Schubring

Wisconsin DPI Assistive Technology Webinar Series

This winter/spring, DPI sponsored two AT webinars. The first was Assistive Technology 101 presented by Paula Walser, where she walked through her Assessing Student Need for Assistive Technology (ASNAT) webpage. The second webinar was yours truly presenting on Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Core Vocabulary.

Both webinars are now posted on the Assistive Technology Learning Modules webpage and are free to view. (web address: https://dpi.wi.gov/sped/educators/consultation/assistive-technology/learning-modules) Each webinar was broken up into shorter parts for easier viewing and closed captioned for accessibility.

Here is the link to the AAC videos (also on the DPI AT Learning modules webpage!) There are 8 separate videos/parts.

Here is also the slide deck:

The Padlet referenced for Q & A can be found here. (https://padlet.com/BuildingAAC/DPIQuestions) I will try my best to monitor the page for questions. My contact information is also on the slides or in the webinar. Additionally, you may use the contact button on my website or contact me through my Building AAC Facebook page (linked at the bottom of this blog post).

I usually do not post much about my own services, but I feel as though it is especially warranted in this case. So much of the feedback that I've received over the past few years that I've been speaking about evidenced-based AAC practices has been from therapists stopping me after the presentation or contacting me to thank me for acknowledging that not every therapist or teacher is an expert at working with students with complex communication needs (CCNs). During the Speech/Language collaborative support meetings that were put on by DPI in the Spring of 2019, I first presented on core vocabulary and implementation. I surveyed Speech/Language Pathologists who attended my breakout session to gauge their comfort with AAC. Here are the results from the informal poll of 186 SLPs across the state of Wisconsin:

What I hope you glean from this poll is that very few people would consider themselves an expert in AAC. What we do know is that almost exactly 50% of the people identified themselves as having little knowledge about AAC or no knowledge at all. Of the 43% that identified themselves as having a few tools that they use regularly, we don't know what those tools are. These could be low tech AAC such as single message switches or one specific app that every student gets because that's all that is available in the district or all that the therapist knows. Now, I don't want to paint this as an entirely doom and gloom situation, because I know that there are also very capable therapists throughout our state who share in my passion for providing all students a robust communication system. My point, though, is that MANY therapists are not comfortable with AAC and we need to do a better job of acknowledging this and providing them the support they need. This is reflected time and again in the feedback that I receive, and in the research.

“The number of individuals who require AAC services dwarfs the number of service providers who have expertise in AAC. Many service providers report that they lack expertise in evidence-based AAC practices (e.g., Costigan & Light, 2010’ Gormley & Light (in press); this lack of expertise negatively impacts services and outcomes for individuals who require AAC.” Light et al., (2019)

Speech/Language pathologists and teachers need to be better supported, and I will continue to advocate for this, shouting this from the very top of my AAC iceberg!

We provide teachers with literacy coaches and instructional coaches to improve their teaching skills and support our learners. How often do we provide coaches for our SLPs or teachers to support the complex communication needs of students? How often is continuing education paid for and encouraged for therapist and teachers who need to boost their skills in AAC? Many therapists and teachers may only have a few students that have CCNs, so their focus is often elsewhere or they don't feel like they have the time to become an "expert" in AAC for that 1 or 2 students.

I know that there are still speech/language programs that do not even offer graduate students one full course on augmentative and alternative communication, and many programs have few clinical opportunities to see patients with CCNs. I also have not seen many teaching programs that offer course work in supporting the needs of students that are nonverbal. If we think about this another way, we would never expect a general practice physician to provide heart surgery, right? So, why do we expect so much from our teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals? I don't know about you, but I'm going to seek out the very best cardiologist that I can to perform heart surgery. We provide experts in literacy and math for many of learners who are behind or to support teachers so that they are providing the very best instruction possible. Yet, we are often leaving our students with complex communication needs vulnerable and without a voice because our SLPs and teachers are not provided with the support they need to increase their knowledge of best practices or have someone to coach them through providing a robust AAC system where we match the features of the system to the student's needs, not just providing a one system fits all approach.

Providing effective coaching around implementing core vocabulary helps to address the beliefs of the team. Believe me when I say it takes a lot to convince someone to presume competence and move a student from a system that offers very limited choices to a system of 40 or 60 abstract pictures. How about asking someone to model (point to) words on the communication system without expectation (i.e., meaning the student doesn't need to respond back) instead of making the student with complex communication needs prove themselves before allowing them access to a robust vocabulary? Our prior experiences make these these concepts of presuming competence and not making communication into a daily "test" very difficult. Luckily there is a lot of research out that that supports coaching as a means to effective implementation:

If we support the teams that work with students with CCNs we can get buy-in, we can set-up data collection, and provide instructional tools to teachers, therapists, parents, and other team members to support the communication needs of students that are non-verbal or limited-verbal. So, even if you don't seek out my services, I hope that you find someone that can help you build supports in your school. At the very least, PLEASE invest in more training for our teachers and therapists. The end of the presentation has pages of resources, but as the table above shows us just presenting "theory" doesn't result in use with fidelity, which hovers between 5%-10%.

Empower yourself to provide a communication system for ALL students. Don't be afraid to ask for support! Our students have the right to have a robust communication system, and YOU can help them develop the skills they need to live a fulfilled, enriched life. They can learn to read, write, advocate for their needs, share their opinions, have a job, and participate in their communities. All it takes is ONE person to positively influence their life. One person to presume their potential. One person to make that least dangerous assumption. If you made it to the end of this post, I'm confident that YOU will be that person!

I hope this AAC webinar series helps you in your journey!

Thank you to DPI for seeing the importance in this continued training and that of Assistive Technology throughout the state of Wisconsin!



Janice Light, David McNaughton, David Beukelman, Susan Koch Fager, Melanie Fried-Oken, Thomas Jakobs & Erik Jakobs (2019) Challenges and opportunities in augmentative and alternative communication: Research and technology development to enhance communication and participation for individuals with complex communication needs, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 35:1, 112, DOI: 10.1080/07434618.2018.1556732



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