Friday, June 13, 2008

Including Students in AAC Decisions

I stood outside the middle school principal's office and waited my turn with 2 sped specialists and an SLP. It was the last teacher day of school and folks were turning in keys and signing exit papers to have a couple of months of a lazier schedule. We were waiting to visit about a soon-to-be 7th grader who has yet to have a successful communication system.
The meeting was concerning a trial run with an AAC device this past month. We wanted to make sure we went over the data collected as a team and knew what our next step was going to be. The SLP had sent us all a survey to fill out and then she collected the information and compiled a summary of all the comments. It had been very informative and we had pretty well come to a concensus that we needed another trial with another device in the fall, but wanted to make sure we were moving together on this. We had thought that if the trial had been successful and we knew it was a good fit, we would have some summer fundraisers in the community and rally to buy the device.
As we sat in the office, the SLP pulled out another paper. "This was the response of the student to questions," She said. I was happily surprised that she had thought to give him his own custom survey. He said that he would take care of the device, he wished it would have been faster, he would use it to talk, etc. What I really liked was the last question: "If you could have this device or try another one, which would you rather have?" His answer? "Try another." Here was a student that was genuinely wanting to compare devices and see what fit him best. I was impressed.
I got to thinking about my AAC trial evaluations. Most of the students aren't able to convey choices and decisions of that magnitude because of cognitive issues - or - can they? I do a lot of my observations watching students use devices and see how appropriate they are for their needs. It is a challenge to match a device to a level, but I need to allow for data collection that is beyond the clicker counters and tick marks for appropriate responses and initiating communication. When possible, I need to allow the student to have choice and response time to tell me what they think, what they want and have some say in final decisions. I am a bit ashamed to say I have often worked with teams to make decisions and we have really looked at what was best for a student and the family and the tasks on an IEP without trying to get real assessment and involvelment from the student. I have several students coming up in August/September who have the ability to make well thought-out choices about what they like and dislike in a device. I think the survey will be a great way to get them involved too.
I met with an AAC sales rep this week and showed her the survey results. She was impressed. She shared: "It not only gives you an idea on the effectiveness of the device, but it also lets you know where you need to beef up training for assistants and folks that aren't quite assessing the use of the device properly." I would encourage you to add the survey tool to your data collection for AT. If you use it properly, the data can clue you in on all kinds of valuable information. And while you are at it, get that all-important student involved too with their own custom survey as well.
So here's to more success and the process of learning everyday!
All the best to you.

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