2002 Conference Proceedings

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Karen Mahan, M.A., CCC-SLP
Terri Nolder, M.A.CC-SLP
Marla Skaden, OTR/L
Sioux Falls Public Schools
2200 S. 5th Ave.
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
Phone: (605) 367-7639
Fax: (605) 367-7693

Professionals serving children with severe and profound disabilities are frequently faced with the challenge of finding a curriculum that meets the diverse educational needs of these students. Lack of availability of appropriate curriculum materials on the market necessitates the need for teachers and related service providers to design and implement programs that meet the individual needs of their students. This can result in extensive time committed to developing the goals/objectives as well as purchasing and/or making the corresponding teaching materials. Faced with this challenge, the Sioux Falls School District staff along with educators from another local agency developed a Functional Skills Curriculum. The curriculum is written for students ranging from early childhood through high school. It outlines functional tasks that enhance an individual's ability to reach their maximum potential in various environments including home, school, and the community. The tasks correlate with IEP goals and objectives, and state standards. In addition assessment measures are included as well as a teaching kit that includes the materials necessary for providing individualized instruction of the various skills. One of the most exciting components of the curriculum is the inclusion of assistive technology to promote independence.

Through the use of assistive technology, the students participating in the functional skills curriculum are experiencing independence and success. As members of the Assistive Technology team in the Sioux Falls School District, we have been instrumental in developing and setting up systems that maximize the students' ability to participate in the functional skills curriculum. Our presentation will follow a student's progress as he enters an early childhood classroom and advances to an elementary classroom. In addition, programmatic needs for children in middle school and high school who are in the process of developing goals for transition into the adult service model will be discussed. Modifications to increase independence and success in the curriculum for students of all ages will be presented.

The following description of a young child entering an early childhood program provides an example of the various supports that are presently being implemented in the Sioux Falls School District. At age three, the student presented with echolalic speech and did not have a method for communicating with others within his environment. The student, diagnosed with autism, was unable to demonstrate comprehension of a picture communication system. The team moved back down the communication ladder to the object level in order to build in independence and success.

The Assistive Technology team developed an object communication system that has been very successful with this student as well as other students with various strengths and needs. Object cards were made for transitions both within and outside of the classroom. The correlating picsym was attached to the bottom of each object card. Using these cards, the student's daily schedule was placed in a highly visible location on the wall. The cards were attached with Velcro to a strip of carpet mounted on the wall to allow the student to independently manipulate his schedule. This is important for promoting independence. In addition, a switch was placed under the cards to provide voice output. Following the cue, "check your schedule," the student took the card. Removal of the card activated the voice output, which provided reinforcement for the student. To assist this student in independently carrying the card to the next location, a wristband was attached to the card. As the student became independent in carrying the cards as he transitioned, the wristband was discontinued. When the student arrived at his destination, he was assisted in placing the card on a strip of carpet either attached to the work area or located outside the classroom door he was entering. Prior to transitioning to a new activity or to a new location, the student "checked his schedule" and used the appropriate transition card to move to a new activity, to a new classroom or to return to his classroom. In order to foster success with the system, it was important to use the cards consistently and as independently as possible.

The object cards were also used for choice making within the classroom. When the student was able to make a choice between 2 or 3 choices for free time, the object cards were placed on a voice output device for choice making. The cards were also used as a workstation task by removing the picsyms and having the student fasten the picsym to the correct object card. The goal of this activity was to fade out the object cards as the picsyms became meaningful for the student in order to move the student to a picsym schedule as quickly as possible. This approach was successful and the student began to show an understanding of the picsyms. At this point, the team implemented a picsym schedule. New vocabulary was continually introduced using objects and then replaced with a picsym as the student exhibited understanding.

The student then progressed to using a modified picture communication system. A sentence strip was utilized and a system established where the student was encouraged to communicate in 3-4 word sentences in a variety of settings. The picture communication system was set up so that a topic page was accessible as the student participated in an assigned activity, making needed vocabulary readily available. One innovative method for enhancing the student's ability to verbally communicate involved pairing the picsyms with a voice output device. The voice output device and use of visuals often triggered the verbal requests to be spoken independently.

The next step was for the Assistive Technology team to take literacy units that had been developed as part of the functional skills curriculum and to modify the material in order to increase the student's independence and success. A book from each unit was selected. Voice output was provided using a sequencer switch that was attached to a switch plate mount. In addition, the books were adapted using objects and picsyms. The student was able to "read" the book independently and then demonstrate comprehension of targeted picsym vocabulary by matching picsyms to objects or by selecting the correct answer using picsyms, etc. The student exhibited pride in his accomplishments. He thrived on showing off his newly developed independence. The next progression was moving from the picture communication system to an electronic communication device with linking features, which the student continues to use today.

One of the keys for successful implementation of the object communication system as this student began to learn basic vocabulary was consistency. In order to provide this consistency, the Assistive Technology team has been instrumental in developing consistent object and picture communication systems for students at all levels, from early childhood up through high school. Consistency is provided as a student transitions from one program to another, whether it involves transitioning to another classroom or building. This helps prevent loss of skills during these transitions with each site having access to the functional skills curriculum and materials as well as the assistive technology devices and support.

In summary the presentation will include: 1) description of the Functional Skills Curriculum; 2) demonstration of materials from the teaching kit created specifically for the curriculum; 3) demonstration of the object communication system including a variety of ideas for successfully incorporating it within the curriculum; 4) demonstration of the picture communication system including adaptations/modifications that have fostered student success; and, 5) demonstration of methods for adapting books to provide voice output in order to increase a child's independence. Our goal is to share the information and materials that we have found to be successful with students who require structure and visual strategies in order to reach their maximum level of independence in a variety of settings.

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