2006 Conference General Sessions




Mary Sagstetter
AbleNet, Inc.
2820 Fairview Ave N
Roseville MN 55113
Day Phone: 800—322—0956
Fax: 651—294—2259
Email: msagstetter@ablenetinc.com

Presenter #2
Kristin Zumbrock

AbleNet, Inc.
2620 Fairview Ave N
Roseville MN 55113
Day Phone: 800—322—0956
Fax: 651—294—2259
Email: kzumbrock@ahlenetinc.corn

Communication is one of the most treasured skills we can have as individuals. It provides each of us with the ability to get our needs and wants met, and most of all, to the independent. Many individuals travel seamlessly through their daily lives able to gain attention, request and reject items, greet others, make comments, ask questions and make choices. Those communicative interactions are so automatic, that not a second thought is given to them. Yet, there are many individuals that have and are riot able to participate in those daily communicative interactions or make the choices that could lead to ultimate independence in life.

Research by Mayer Shevin and Nancy Klien (1984) discussed the importance of choice-making for individuals with severe disabilities. These researchers commented that although most typically developing individuals will learn this skill with little or no formal training, this might not be the case for students with severe disabilities. In order for them to learn choice—making skills and benefit personally from the opportunity, choice—making experiences must be fostered throughout the day and incorporated into specific academic, leisure and self—care activities. Providing training to exercise choice and classroom opportunities are required for students to move towards functioning independently. Some of the areas they had suggested for choice—making to take place are:
Various Objects or Activities
Choices: “What color do you want to use to color the tree? Brown or green

Whether or Not to Engage in an Activity
Choices: “Do you want to _________?“
When to terminate a given activity
Choices: “Shall we do that again?”
Choices among various means of completing a task
Choices: “How will you write your name on your paper? Name stamp or pencil
Choices of partners for various tasks
Choices: Should we ask someone to do this activity with us? Who would you like to ask?

Interestingly enough, today in 2005 struggles still exist as to how to support teaching choice— making skills to students with complex communication needs. Even though strategies basis choice—making skills have been infused into basic textbooks for pre—service specials teachers, there is still failure in the full development of choice—making skills by people with severe disabilities (Snell and Brown, 2000.) In agreement with Snell and Brown, Bambara, author of the article, Fostering Choice—Making Skills, reports that, we have made substantial progress in valuing and encouraging choice-making for individuals with severe disabilities, but we still have a long way to go before the full range of choice opportunities are realized.

Bambara comments, “The ability to know and express one’s preferences is shaped by daily experiences over time.” In support of the Shevin and Klien 1984 research, Bamara reLiects that for many people choice making must be directly taught. She suggests, “Even deliberately planned, at least until offering choices becomes a natural response in our daily social interactions.”

There have been many articles since 1984 that support daily choice-making opportunities and the belief that all students have the ability to express their preferences. Most of the articles report how important it is for students to practice these skills in the natural environment so as not to become dependent on others to make choices and decisions for them. In addition, using a voice out-put communication device with the choices recorded has been beneficial in supporting the student in learning choice—making skills. Linda Burkhart (2003) reminds us that it is important to structure a student’s natural environment for input as Swell as output, and for access in order to provide necessary voice output communication and/or assistive technology tools to support student success.

“The school setting is a perfect context for providing opportunities for choice-making,” states Allison Stafford. This environment does not have to be fabricated. Reason and opportunity for communication already exists within the school setting. It is essential that opportunities for choice—making occur in a related environment and appropriate time, where the student can draw the connection between the choices and language. Examples are:
Location: Possible Choices:
Locker            What do you want to take off first? Coat or hat. What do you want to hang up
first? Coat or hat
Morning Meeting   What color pen do you want to use to “sign in”? red or blue
Math              What do you want to measure with? Paper clips or blocks
Science           Who do you want your science partner to be? John or Amanda
Reading           Which magazine do you want to read? Teen or Seventeen
Social Studies    Which book do you want to read? George Washington or Abe Lincoln. How do
you want to find the information? Web or newspaper
Art               What do you want to make? Puppet or poster
Health            Which is a healthy snack? Chips or Apples
Gym               Which activity do you want to play today? Basketball or flag football
End of Day        What you want to put on first? Coat or hat

Also reported in many of the research readings are the additional beneficial behavioral effects that include increased engagement level and improved behavior when choices are provided. Problem behavior of aggression, object destruction, tantrums and self—injury were noted to decrease when choices were presented. (Dyer, Dunlap & Winterling, 1990) Prom the research it appears that choice—making can have positive effects on students of all abilities and levels of cognition.

Practicing skills in an isolated environment does not typically lend itself to the
successful transfer of the skills. Choice—making skills need to be taught in the related environment in order to support students in drawing comprehension and a better understanding of what they are being asked to do.

It is possible for individuals with complex communication needs to make significant day- to-day decisions when provided with an auditory or visual representation choice of food, clothing, books, colors, music, scheduling, partners for social activities, and leisure and recreational activities. The ultimate goal should be for all individuals to be able to make choices and work towards independence.

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