2002 Conference Proceedings

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Staff Development to Support AAC and AT in Schools

Verjene Kalashian, MA, CCC-SLP
Program Director
ACRE Center
Monterey County Office of Education
47 San Benancio Rd.
Salinas, CA 93908

Peggy Barker, MS, ATP
Rehabilitation Engineer
Applied Assistive Technology
1874 Silvana Ln
Santa Cruz, CA 95062


Curriculum guidelines and content will be described to support educational staff and students' families with the development of AAC systems and AT technology and computer-based activities implementation.


All Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE) students have disabilities that adversely affect their educational performances and present a challenge to curriculum accessibility. Many of these students rely on portable communication devices, computers, mobility devices and other assistive technologies to participate in their educational programs. These students require extensive collaboration between regular education teachers and special education service providers to support the use of these strategies and technologies in the regular education and special day classrooms.

The Augmentative Communication Resource and Evaluation (ACRE) Center is a countywide service of MCOE. The mission of the ACRE Center is to provide all students with disabilities the assistive strategies, materials, technologies and training necessary to support their social, physical and academic participation at home, school, work and play. ACRE Center's vision for students is to participate interactively and independently using AAC strategies and AT tools. The ACRE Center delivers a school supported community based collaborative AAC and AT service delivery to streamline the implementation of complex equipment systems within special and regular education programs. The ACRE Center was established in 1986 to meet the following needs:
* Daily access to AAC tools and AT for student use and diagnostic training;
* Access to information for families as well as educators;
* Coordination of procurement, dissemination and repair of LIF
equipment; and,
* Support to encourage donations and grants.

To do this, the ACRE Center provides:
* Student assessments and consultation services within their daily environments;
* Short and long-term loan of equipment and educational materials through the Kimberley Oberthier Lending Library;
* AAC and AT professional training and support;
* Computer technology training and support;
* A computer training lab with supported open lab days; and,
* Training material development.

AAC and AT resources are far more available than ever but it is difficult to stay current and students do not have sufficient access to appropriate technologies and services. We also know that AAC and AT competency is a professional skill that clinicians and educators need in their repertoire. More opportunities are needed to learn about the clinical and educational applications of AT. National trends indicate that the gap of what is available for AAC users and what is known and established through AAC literature is widening not diminishing. We also know that the role of computers in education is not clear. A consensus on how computers should be used to support a core curriculum does not exist. Teachers and support staff need to be comfortable with technology in order to use it. Special education professionals need to take the lead role in defining their use. Most university training programs have not provided systematic access to or training in the application of these technologies.

In order to effectively and efficiently address these trends and issues ACRE Center has developed AAC and AT professional development, training and support for the therapists, teachers, instructional assistants and family members of special education students. Training is provided in lectures, multiple day institutes, working group sessions, hands-on training labs and self-directed open labs. Staff training topics includes:
* Non-symbolic and symbolic communication development;
* Emerging and formal literacy development;
* Aided language stimulation;
* AAC principles for assessment and intervention;
* Macintosh and PC/Windows computer applications and
troubleshooting; and,
* Assistive Technology to support independence and participation in education including inclusion, and vocational education.

Guiding Principles

This professional development curriculum is a principle-centered versus a cookbook-centered training approach. A principle-centered approach provides participants with a compass (e.g., What you do and why you do it.) to guide their decision-making as they select strategies and tools from various programs to develop and adjust exemplary AAC/AT instructional programs for individual students. Although ACRE supports and advocates for the use of developmentally and chronologically appropriate tools and strategies, the implementation of AAC and AT does not work in a linear fashion as recipes in cookbooks do.

The success of a program or tool is based on its principles not the program itself or its philosophies. We need to help teachers, therapists and parents identify why a program or strategy works or does not work based on the principles it employs or excludes. Some of the key principles that guide this training curriculum are:

* Communication and language are different with implications for assessment and intervention.
* Communicate with the communicator by using appropriate input modes that match partners processing needs and cognitive skills.
* Training wheels and scaffolding provides support allowing participation and access to daily experiences needed for skill development.
* Determine educational and training goals before selecting technology and vocabulary to ensure the student's needs are supported.

Those who serve students with severe communication delays and/or physical disabilities need to become better observers of behavior, to be better problem solvers, to learn to engineer the environment, make communication available all of the time and to learn to facilitate participation and independence with learning activities and materials. They also need to become familiar with features of tools, strategies and programs in order to compare them and match needs and abilities of students to the available tools, strategies and programs.


Based upon these needs, ACRE professional development includes:

* A three-year AAC professional training program;
* AT and AAC one-day workshops and three-day institutes addressing currently available tools and strategies; and,
* Computer application and troubleshooting workshops.

For the AAC professional training, each year new staff is selected from a pool of teachers, speech language pathologists, psychologists and occupational therapists to begin the three-year process. Year one is an introduction to AAC where functions of AAC, needs of AAC users, AAC assessment procedures and aided language stimulation strategies are discussed. Year two focuses on the implementation of the models and concepts discussed in year one. Year three provides participants with an opportunity to further develop their programs based on individual student needs. Each year participants are provided with six to eight release days to attend these training and workdays to develop related materials.

Hands-on training in the ACRE Lab addresses the development of staff competencies in AT and in the use of computer based tools and applications. One-day workshop and three-day institute Assistive Technology topics include:
* Strategies to use and troubleshoot computers with confidence including use of the Internet;
* Using computer based applications that facilitate curriculum access including several authoring programs;
* Accessible literacy for students of all ages with developmental delays;
* Assistive Technology strategies for students with learning disabilities; and,
* Assistive Technology to support curriculum adaptations for students with developmental disabilities.

The lab is equipped with computers with Macintosh and Windows operating systems, color printers, scanners, digital cameras, write-able CD-ROM drives, a wide variety of adaptive hardware and software including several site licenses.

Several half-day workshops have been designed for parents. Parents are welcome and encouraged to attended any of the workshops offered by the ACRE staff but additional workshops were designed so that parents could participate when professionals were not taking the workshop. These include:

* Assistive Technology for Play and Leisure - Ideas for using simple Technology at Home; and,
* Using AAC to Develop Communication, Language, and Literacy Learning in Children With or Without Speech

A variety of opportunities to learn more about AAC and AT are offered. These include an Open Houses, an annual Share-a-thon and Open Lab days. The Share-a-thon is a day of activities demonstrated by the teachers, therapists and parents who have created them. Open Lab days with ACRE staff are scheduled at least once a month.

The ACRE staff provides the training. ACRE staff gathers materials to present at the workshops from national conferences, workshops, the internet and a variety of publications. The ACRE staff includes the Program Director (an AAC specialist), the ACRE Resource Center Assistant, an Occupational Therapist (an Access Specialist), Rehabilitation Engineer Consultant (an AT specialist), an AAC Diagnostic Trainer, Computer Technician and AAC Mentor and Peer Trainer.


In order to gauge the effectiveness and usefulness of the program, outcome measurement tools are implemented yearly. These tools include in-service evaluation, AAC training questionnaires, workshop discussion, status worksheets, end of year letters to selected ACRE and MCOE staff, and IEP goals and objectives. The outcome measures show that participants have expanded their view of communication functions and environments, developed positive attitudes toward the role of computers, AT and AAC and have increase the use of technology and AAC strategies with students. Students demonstrate improved oral speech, improved transitions to and within activities, improved self-regulation behaviors, increased choice making skill, improved social communication, increased length of utterances (MLU), and increased independence in educational settings.


The development of this program can be attributed to the vision, a plan, a timeline, administrative support and teamwork. The vision has always been to address students' goals and abilities by supporting independent participation and interaction. Technology is considered as only one of the functional components used to enhance communication, learning, work and play. A plan based on AAC and AT best practices and professional experience has provided a blueprint to guide the Center's objectives. The timeline and teamwork are essential to the implementation of this program. Administrative support has insured sufficient funding and release time for all of the participants. These have resulted in a proactive service oriented program benefiting students with disabilities.

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