Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Carole Zangari9
Opening the Gates
For many users of AAC, the road to communicative competence is an arduous one. Consider the case of JJ, a bright 4 year old with severe motor limitations, who enters a typical preschool with only a few intelligible words.
After months of meetings, on the first day of school, his proud parents carry him into the classroom. They fasten him into an adapted chair that they brought for him to sit in and spend a half hour giving his aide instructions about his likes and dislikes, feeding difficulties, and toileting needs. Meanwhile, his teacher introduces him to some classmates, who are amazed, curious, and a little frightened of his unusual chair, constant drooling, grunting sounds, and random, jerky movements. One brave soul offers the child a toy, but JJ’s unruly arms bat it away and won’t let him take it. His would-be friend steps back, a bit confused. As they move to circle time, JJ makes seemingly random sounds and movements while his classmates tell their ages, name the day and the month, talk about the weather, choose classroom jobs, sing songs with fingerplays, and show and tell about a special toy. JJ’s eyes follow the teacher’s every movement, expectant and hopeful.
JJ has been in school exactly 35 minutes. He is already light-years behind.
The challenge is overwhelming. Within the shortest possible time, the educational team must find a way for JJ to:
- communicate his basic needs,
- participate in classroom routines,
- move around the classroom and school,
- pick up and hold toys and educational materials,
- use the computer,
- hold and look through books,
- begin to write and draw,
- retell stories,
- make friends,
- explain things,
- ask questions,
- fight and make up,
- whine and complain,
- be in school plays,
- count and measure,
- solve problems,
- make an animal mask, and
- show what he’s learned.
In sum, he must play catch-up: learning more and faster than the other 4 year olds. What stands between JJ and success are the tools, services, and support we provide.
As SLPs, we’re often seen as the gatekeepers to AAC devices for these children. It’s a heavy responsibility, and SLPs need to be aware of the power they wield. These situations are complex and valid assessment data can be hard to come by. When we aren’t sure of the skill level or can’t fully predict what he’ll need or be able to do in a few months’ time, we should err on the side of caution by presuming that the child IS capable and WILL learn if provided with the right tools and enough good intervention.
It all starts with believing in the child. Yes, the road is long and convoluted, with many bumps and a few big gates. Let’s be the profession known for opening them.