2002 Conference Proceedings

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Judy Dawson, Augmentative Communication Specialist
B.S. Speech Pathology and Audiology,
Certificate in Assistive Technology
Marilyn Pitzer, Assistive Technology Specialist
Contra Costa County Office of Education
77 Santa Barbara Road
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

Over the last three years we have developed a successful augmentative communication chat group for the students in Far East Contra Costa County in Northern California. Our session will teach you how to organize your own successful chat group. We will provide you with numerous handouts and opportunities for hands-on activities using assistive technology which will guide you through the steps of adapting Language Arts and Social Studies Curriculum for use by your augmentative communicators. By including a variety of topics in their usable vocabulary, they will become much more interesting conversationalists.

We wanted our students to be able to talk about more than just themselves, the weather and the bathroom! At first, our chat group covered a limited variety of topics, including basic conversation skills such as initiating, maintaining, trouble-shooting and closing a conversation. We played games such as bingo and uno. Students made choices, such as toppings for a pizza. They talked about weekend events with their families, etc. This was good, but we wanted to broaden the scope of the group.

In order to go to the next level we had to establish a rapport with the students' teachers. It was necessary for the teachers to understand how important it is for AAC device users to have an environment where they practice communicating successfully. It is difficult for some AAC device users to feel comfortable "talking" in a classroom where they are the only one who uses AT to communicate. The chat group is a pressure-free environment where every student uses a communication device and each has an equal voice. It was not too difficult for the teachers to see the value of their students attending the chat group. However, it has been difficult for some teachers to see how important it is for each student's programmer to also participate.

We have found that it is essential to have an assistant from each student's classroom attend the chat group. By attending the chat group with their students, assistants are able to see their augmentative communicator in a positive light. We have found that when assistants attend the chat group, they often become enthusiastic about AAC and are willing to devote more time to programming the devices. They also make good suggestions for topics and specific vocabulary which can be included in future chat group sessions. We have given the assistants instruction on basic operations and programming of their student's respective communication device. (DynaVox 3100, DynaMyte 3100, Macaw, Easy Talk, Communication Builder, Tech Talk, Big Mack, Step-by-Step....) Plus we provide them with the necessary information needed for each lesson.

That brings us to the pivotal component of a successful augmentative communication chat group...PLANNING. We plan out our topics for the entire year, and then flesh them out several weeks in advance. That way we are able to provide our assistants with an outline of the topic we will be discussing as well as a list of the necessary vocabulary their student will need in order to successfully participate in chat group discussions. It takes a substantial amount of time to program some of the devices, so we must give the assistants the information well in advance of the time it is to be used by the students.

We select topics and activities that are appropriate for the high school aged students who are in the chat group. Then we adapt them for access with AAC devices and AT such as IntelliKeys and IntelliTools software. We have aligned our curriculum contents with the California State Standards and Benchmarks in History-Social Science and Reading/Language Arts. Topics which we have covered or are planning to cover include:

Letter Writing
Carrying on a Conversation
Word Games
Huckleberry Finn
Romeo and Juliet
Ordering Food in a Restaurant
Listening Skills
California Gold Rush
California Missions
The Pyramids of Egypt
Presidents Washington and Lincoln

We will provide each seminar participant with the following handouts:
Sample outlines of lessons in History-Social Sciences and Reading/Language Arts.
Instructions on using a scanner and digital camera to enhance the presentation of curriculum.
Use of props such as "49-er clothing" and manipulatives.

Samples of scripted messages for conversation activities - "What Is It?", "The Bag Lady," and "Shout It Out."

Each participant will have the opportunity for "hands-on" activities including:
Programmed AAC devices.
IntelliTools activities with IntelliKeys overlays.
Games that promote conversation skills.

The following books have been helpful in developing the organization of our augmentative communication chat group:

Book of Possibilities, Elementary Edition. Helen Canfield, M.A., CCC/SLP and Peggy Locke, Ph.D. Able Net, Inc. 1998.

Book of Possibilities, Secondary Edition. Helen Canfield, M.A., CCC/SLP and Peggy Locke, Ph.D. Able Net, Inc. 1998.

Engineering Training Environments for Interactive Augmetative Communication. Pamela S. Elder, M.A., CCC/SLP and Carol Goossens', Ph. D., CCC/SLP. Southeast Augmentative Communication Conference Publications, 1996.

Going Out and About. Dari Daniels M. A., CCC/SLP and Connie Schaper. Mayer-Johnson Co., 1998.

Interactive Augmentative Communication Program. Susan Hough, Michelle Lubetsky, Kathy Taylor and Terri Tarquinio.

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