2004 Conference Proceedings

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Christine A. Scally, MA CCC-SLP
Email: cascally@cox.net

When developing a custom vocabulary for a person acquiring an augmentative communication device, two scenarios are common. The responsibility falls to a single practitioner or group of practitioners who have a large number of augmentative communication clients, or the responsibility falls to a single person or group of people with very limited experience developing augmentative communication systems. In either case, the obstacles are the same: space and time. The communication content needs to be organized within the parameters of the device's available space, in a way that can be understood and used by the communicator. Programming must continue at a pace rapid enough to meet the communicator's changing needs and growing skill development. Skill development and content acquisition needs to proceed at a pace rapid enough to meet the communicator's growing communication objectives. A coherent development plan is in order. To meet the AAC practitioner's needs, the plan sh! ould be applicable across a range of devices and for a variety of clients. For the novice support team, the plan should be easy to follow and apply to the communicator and device that concerns them. It should address the questions: Where do we want to go? Where do we start? And, How do we get there from here?

This presentation presents a dynamic display development plan that can be used across devices and clients. It focuses on custom-built phrase based vocabulary, but takes into consideration the use of commercially available vocabularies, word-based systems and letter/ word prediction systems. The plan itself provides the space management techniques: Fitting large vocabularies on small devices, reducing navigational keystrokes, and providing for vocabulary expansion within an initial framework.

The plan was devised during the development of "Velocity," a commercially available vocabulary for school age users, and has since been generalized within the Clark County School District to provide a model for custom vocabulary development.

Once in place, the plan provides tools for time management. Three aspects of time management are considered: programming time and efficiency, instructional time and efficiency, and learning efficiency. Consequences for the initial programmer, the primary instructor, the support team and the communicator are addressed.

For the person responsible for the initial device setup, a coherent plan provides a roadmap and direction as a new client's device is considered. Each new client may present different immediate communication needs and have a different speed and direction of skill development. A plan allows the developer to consider individual needs in a consistent way. Organizational problems are inherent in small devices, or systems in which a large button size is required. These too can be considered from the outset and according to a fixed strategy. The basic framework is consistent and known, and the developer can move forward quickly, applying the plan across a range of devices, for a variety of clients.

Developing the content and organization of a device according to an explicit plan assists with the development of programming teams. Tools (templates, schedules, organizing principles) are created that can easily shared and understood multiple support providers. Programming can be accomplished more quickly when the task is shared. An explicit plan allows a group of programmers to maintain a coherent, consistent system for the communicator.

Teaching/ learning strategies can be taken into account from the outset as well. Necessary instructional steps can guide the organization of initial content. Future goals for device layout and content, such as use of a commercially available system, can provide a scope and sequence of learning objectives. When instructional strategies are closely linked to device organization, it becomes simpler for strategies to be shared across support providers. Instruction, like programming becomes a team effort.

These organizational efforts on the part of the programming and instructional teams provide direct benefits for the learner/ communicator. Immediate communication needs are addressed, pre-existing skills and knowledge are taken into account, and content is selected from existing environmental supports. These factors encourage early success and enjoyment. Device related skills learned during work with initial content are generalized to new content. As content grows larger and more complex, the basic organizational strategies remain consistent, scaffolding content learning.

Plan outlines and worksheets will be provided. A variety of custom systems developed with the plan will be used to demonstrate programming and instructional benefits. In-service syllabus will be shown to demonstrate team-building concepts. Participants will acquire the tools and knowledge necessary to implement the specific plan described, and will develop an understanding of the benefits a coherent plan can have on communicator outcomes.

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