2006 Conference General Sessions

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THE ROLE OF AT IN LITERACY FOR STUDENTS WITH SEVERE COGNITIVE DELAYS


Presenter #1
Patricia Ourand
Associated Speech & Language Services, Inc.

100 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Towson
MD
21286
USA

Day Phone: 410-336-7991
Fax: 410-296-5710
Email: POurand@aslsinc.com

PRESENTER #2
Roslyn Canosa
Kennedy Krieger Partnership Schools
1600 Arllington Avenue
Baltimore
MD

Zip/Postal Code: 21239

USA
Day Phone: 410-396-7463
Fax:
Email: Canosa@kennedykrieger.org

This session discusses the integration of technology for educators and AT for students with significant cognitive, linguistic, sensory and motor delays when completing literacy activities.

Williams (1994) writes that despite the fact that he has a severe physical disability, uses a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking, he defines his success with one word, “literacy”.  He continues by stating that literacy is a tool that can be used to develop other life skills.  Sturm (2003) notes that literacy skills will increase and improve the quality of life for all, and perhaps more distinctively, those individuals who use AAC.  Being literate can have many definitions.  This session will define it very broadly to mean that an individual is able to listen, speak, read, write, and think about what has been heard, spoken, read, or written.  Literacy is not only reading or writing, it is using language and communication in numerous and varied ways to become a better communicator, and to be able to engage cognitively with more of the universe of ideas, things, people, and activities, that is to do more thinking.  The more a person can think about, the more t!
hat individual can listen, speak, read, and write effectively.  

The definition of literacy has evolved along with a broadened understanding of human behaviors and technologies available to support and augment communication for students with a combination of cognitive, linguistic, sensory and/or motor deficits.  To some, it means proficient reading. To others, it includes the ability to recognize functional visual images, such as the Golden Arches (e.g., McDonald’s, actual photographs, labels from packaging).  To some, it is a requirement that whatever is “written” must be related to the alphabet, yet to others, the choices and preferences may include any type of visual depiction or caricature that the individual is able to produce in order to convey/read information on “paper”.  Others realize that even some degree of involvement or participation, as opposed to independence, constitutes “literacy”.  All agree that literacy:
v expands opportunities across environments
v occurs along a continuum
v applies to individuals of all ages  
v is continually moving, but may be very slow and require significant adaptations.

Many students enrolled in the various special education centers around the country experience some combination of significant cognitive, linguistic, sensory and/or motor skills and deficits.  Despite these weaknesses, each of these students is entitled to opportunities to increase and enhance literacy, if only at the pre-emergent level.  From birth we are all in various levels of transition with regard to literacy.  With very young children, or those individuals who are very low functioning developmentally, including limited world experiences and behaviors, this process may need to begin with play.  For students with severe-to-profound multiple disabilities, while the process of literacy is continually progressing, the progression may be very slow and will likely require significant adaptations with regard to temporal expectations, materials development and other issues.  

As educators, we all acknowledge that both low and high technology strategies can be effectively applied to literacy learning.  This technology must be used by the educators and related services staff, as well as students.  The use of mainstream technologies such as digital cameras, scanners and computers can be readily employed to create both hard copies of books as well as virtual books and enrichment activities on paper and on the computer.  However, we can’t diminish the role of low technology such as books with sensory adaptations and other supports used to stimulate interest and participation in the process of listening and reading.  

Rush (2005) reminds us that the use of single switch access to literacy activities on the computer or even with adapted books can support learning of a multiplicity of concepts including categorization and association, which will ultimatly help to support the effective development of other skills (e.g. the use of dynamic display communication systems). AT is available to support movement along and within the Literacy Continuum that looks at literacy from pre-emergent to emergent to transitional to conventional skills.  It provides the means to make it meaningful and functional.

The professional challenges associated with providing literacy activities for all students are to:
v continually and actively engage individuals who rely on AAC in meaningful reading and writing experiences over time and across environments.  The human component of these literacy solutions is understood when reading the Literacy Bill of Rights.  
v allow for and create the broadest-possible range of literacy abilities for individuals who use AAC regardless of age or complexity of communication needs

These students include those who appear to have:
v a limited attention span, and/or
v little motivation, and/or
v a lack of focus, and/or
v little interest in books or reading

They are often the students who benefit optimally from a Functional Life Skills program that addresses the following domains:
1. Recreation / Leisure
2. Personal Management
3.
Vocational
4.
Community Based Instruction (CBI)


The goal of all literacy activities for these individuals is to insure repetition and motivation to enhance learning and skill development across the continuum from partial participation to some level of independence!  When working with these students various activities and scaffolds can be designed to support: communication goals, such as vocabulary exploration and expansion, along with practice and reinforcement of carrier/familiar phrases.  As well an individual’s social goals (e.g., dialogue and conversations; jokes, and other social discourse) can be addressed.  This session will review all of the issues introduced above, while offering actual examples from a Kennedy Krieger Partnership program in the Baltimore City Public School system.  


References:

Rush, Elizabeth S.  Emergent Literacy For Individuals With Severe/Profound Multiple Disabilities.  2005 CSUN 20th Annual International Conference "Technology and Persons with Disabilities" Proceedings.

Sturm, J.M.  Writing n AAC. The ASHA Leader. September 9, 2003.
Williams, M. Alternatively Speaking.  June, 1994. Volume 1, Number 2.


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