2002 Conference Proceedings

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Rick Hohn,
AAC Consultant
DynaVox Systems, LLC
1125 Cottontail Road.
Vista, CA 92083
Phone: 760-598-8336
E-Mail: rickstalk@juno.com 
Website: http://www.geocities.com/spiritwheels

Many who have been disabled early in life don't miss, in the traditional sense, the ability to walk. The same may be true for the person who has never spoken out loud and is unfamiliar with the power of speech. Advanced augmentative communication is now available. There are certain keys to success, which involve sociological and psychological issues that can result in the impact and acceptance of AAC being comparable to the use of a wheelchair.

The presenter, a proficient DynaVox user, will share how his first experience with power of speech was as though he had a remote control to which others responded by helping or doing the things that he asked. It was as fun as controlling a remote racecar. Previously, he worried that the power of speech would turn him into an offensive, demanding person that he hated to be around. It was the opposite with positive effects he found.

Key strategies for making an AAC user succeed with an augmentative device include the following:

I. Believe in the ability to communicate.

Increasing confidence by challenging a beginning AAC user to use a system is essential.

The question should be asked, "Does the consumer feel challenged to climb to his or her fullest potential?" Both the AAC user and the professional should set realistic but high goals. Placing a person in a status quo according to one's disability isn't acceptable.

II. Provide positive motivation:

With proper motivation, anybody can do most things his/her mind sets out to do. The feat that is accomplished is actually secondary to the motivation behind it. It either brings success or failure.

The question should be asked, "Why is a consumer learning to use an AAC device?" If the answer is just to try new equipment on the market, then the attempt will certainly end in a failure with the device winding up on the shelf. If the answer is to help achieve something a consumer wants badly enough, then the experience of learning about assisted technology will probably be a giant success.

III. Removing barriers:

Success comes in identifying and removing any access and opportunity barriers to a full use to an AAC device.

The question should be asked, "Is there anything standing in the way of a consumer developing his or her maximum potential in communicating?" If so, what are these barriers, whether they are access or opportunity that need to be identified and removed.

Make sure that the consumer has as much access to his or her device both physically and psychologically. An inability to physically access a communication system can be just as of a hindrance as a person's negative attitude about AAC.

IV. Create a fun learning environment.

It should be fun especially for children learning how to use an AAC device.

Again, the question should be asked, "Why is a consumer learning to use an AAC device?" If the answer is just to give therapy, a loss of interest will quickly set in. But if it is to help to achieve a goal, motivation will kick in, making learning the top priority.

Find ways that a user can play games with other kids by using a communication system. Or a teenager will be motivated to talk to a sweetheart. Obtaining employment and increasing job skills are motivating factors for adults in using an AAC system.

V. Encourage problem solving - not anger:

The best way to deal with a problem is to create a plan to resolve it. Also, having alternate plans will help reduce frustrations.

The question should be asked, "Is the consumer showing signs of frustration in using an AAC device?" A consumer showing frustration with a device is a sign that problem solving is needed. Nobody likes dealing with an angry person. Get him/her to be calm and collected, and find creative ways to success.

VI. Provide time to learn:

Success comes by patience - taking time to learn.

The question should be asked, "Does the consumer feel pressured from himself and or others to suddenly learn an AAC system."

Emphasize to the consumer that no communication device can be learned overnight. He or she must be patient and have help made available. Learning is a process. To avoid frustrations, explain to the consumer that an old communication system is all right to use in emergencies. On occasions, diverting to a native language is fine. There is nothing worse than wanting to say something that is important but can't. Acknowledge all attempts to communicate whether it is with or without a device. Reserve learning for designated times.

Also, encourage consumers to take advantage of different opportunities, such as, attending conferences or by going to product trainings. Learning doesn't stop after graduating from school.

VII. Listen to consumer's ideas:

Success comes from critics withdrawing when they see a person achieve something that previously was thought to be impossible.

The question should be asked, "Does a consumer have an idea to make his/her operating an AAC system even though it might not be in the textbook?"

Consumers know their bodies the best and what they can or cannot do. So their ideas for implementing a device should be heavily considered. If a non-traditional approach works, it is hard to argue with success.

VIII. Build a good support team:

Success comes when obstacles get shoved further out of the way by people advocating for consumers to reach their goals.

The question should be asked, "How can I best advocate for a consumer using an AAC device to bring out his/her maximum potential?" A good unified support team made up of family members, friends, teachers, therapists and manufacturers is a key to success. Parents should learn how to program a device. It shouldn't be left up to speech therapists and school personnel.

The presenter will share how he wouldn't be where he is today without the support of his parents. His parents needed his high school principal to back up their plea for him to communicate any way he could, and that broke down the barriers.

These suggestions and insights will help maximize the potential of somebody with a severe communication disorder.

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