1998 Conference Proceedings

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Cynthia Cottier
Augmentative Communication Therapies
P.O. Box 2184
Arcadia, CA 91077-2184
(626) 351-5402

Perhaps the most critical factor in promoting successful implementation of AAC devices in the school setting is a strong support team. However, although the concept of developing an AAC support "team" is not new, it continues to be overlooked or frequently not in place, especially in the school setting. Unfortunately, administrators are often resistant to this concept secondary to the amount of staff and time required for a single student. In addition, staff members are often asked to play unfamiliar roles and devote time without compensation. Unfortunately, a single individual is often asked to assume total responsibility for the intervention process. Clearly, many school districts need guidelines to facilitate a more functional approach by developing a collaborative team approach.

Promoting and maintaining a student's participation and independence in the classroom requires that the people involved in the child's educational program work together as a team. Although the composition of the team varies according to the child's needs and personnel available, team members typically include speech-language pathologist or AAC specialist, assistive technology specialist, special and/or regular education teacher, occupational therapist, physical therapist, support personnel, the student, and family members. A coordinated team ensures that the student has adequate resources and support, that the communication system is operational and designed to meet social and educational needs, and that problems are identified and resolved in a timely manner. Some of the characteristics of effective teams are as follows:

1. designated team leader;
2. recognition of the differences in goals, attitudes and expectations;
3. understanding the primary goal of increasing the student's participation which leads to increased socialization and the forming of friendships while the student is learning the curriculum;
4. coming to a consensus on academic and communication goals;
5. sensitivity and appreciation of the needs of other team members and collaboration with one another;
6. flexibility and openness to modifying techniques or strategies that are ineffective;
7. the ability to evaluate themselves honestly;
8. the ability to determine strategies to facilitate the student's success;
9. demonstration of respect for the student's and family's preferences and decisions; and,
10. accountability for reaching desired outcomes.

Team members need to work closely together and share common goals and responsibilities. Each individual may assume specific duties to maximize the child's education program; however, team members may share responsibilities in the following areas:

1. providing and encouraging opportunities for student participation;
2. reinforcing the use of the AAC system;
3. encouraging peer interaction; and,
4. working on educational goals. To promote functional AAC use, it is critical for team members to recognize each other's specific responsibilities and to work together to develop and implement intervention plan. If an individual is not able, or willing, to do this, he or she may not be a good selection as a team member.

In order to develop effective "teams", training is necessary for each team member. Professional and paraprofessional who are involved in the educational programs of students who use AAC systems often have varying levels of experience using AAC technologies. Team members need to be trained to operate the AAC device, to incorporate augmentative systems into the curriculum, and to adapt classroom materials and activities so that students using AAC can participate to the maximum potential in the classroom. AAC specialists who take the time to establish rapport with team members often have more success in getting support for students' AAC intervention programs.

The first step in training team members is to identify the learning preferences and training needs of each member. It is critical to identify the team member's knowledge and interest in AAC. One way to do this is to obtain this information informally, such as through observation or conversations. Some indicators that training is effective are that the trainee asks questions, develops new and creative ideas, and demonstrates attempts to troubleshoot with devices on her own or contacts another team member when necessary.

When conducting training sessions for team members, it is suggested that the following techniques or strategies are utilized:

1. create a positive environments in which individuals feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing experiences;
2. collaborate with everyone and accept them as equal team members;
3. start with a narrower focus and provide a broader application;
4. keep in mind that change is a process, not a single event;
5. provide many opportunities for staff to practice with the devices and strategies;
6. be sensitive to different learning styles;
7. relate the materials you are presenting to information the staff already knows;
8. apply the information to children the staff are currently working with;
9. provide informal learning situations, as they are less likely to produce tension and anxiety;
10. break down complicated tasks into small, manageable steps; and,
11. follow a consistent schedule for training and ongoing support.

Another critical issue to be addressed when developing a team approach is what information team members need to know to provide the most support to the student. First, the team members need to understand what it is like to communicate using AAC methods. Therefore, it is often useful to have each team member "step into the AAC user's shoes" and to experience the communicative demands of AAC first hand. Therefore, having team members complete exercises where the AAC user's communication system is actually used by the team member is recommended. Second, team members need to be presented with techniques and strategies to increase the student's participation in classroom activities. Since the degree of AAC use will vary from situation to situation, activity to activity, and environment to environment, team members need to understand how to analyze the level of participation necessary in each activity and the most appropriate means of communication for each situation. Team members also need to know how to adapt the physical environment to accommodate for the student needs. The final area which needs to be taught to the team members is how to incorporate peers as "buddies" and part of the team. Providing team members with all of the information provided above goes a long way to promoting functional AAC use by the student.

Since developing a team, and training team members to understand the necessary information is often difficult; especially when individuals who are not familiar with AAC are asked to be the team leader by school districts. To help in the development and training process, a training manual entitled "Functional AAC Intervention: A Team Approach" has been developed. This manual contains information and exercises to promote functional AAC use by the student. "Functional AAC Intervention: A Team Approach" is recommended for any individual who has little experience in the area of AAC and is asked to develop a support team.

"Functional AAC Intervention: A Team Approach", (1997), Imaginart International, Inc., 307 Arizona Street, Bisbee, AZ 85603, 800-828-1376.

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