By Tanna Neufeld, MS, CCC-SLP
It’s hard to believe that it has been a full 3 months since the ISAAC conference in Toronto! As a first timer, I have to admit that I was both in awe and overwhelmed at the amazing depth of this conference. I felt a lot like a groupie amongst some of the most well-known and infinitely respected “rock stars” in our field! It was a wonderful time and place to learn, to be reminded, to be inspired, and to connect. It was definitely hard to pick just a few takeaways to share, as I left each session inspired to try something new, pumped to be on the right track, and at the same time thinking “oh dear, I’ve been doing it all wrong!” But, here are a handful of my big “Ah Ha Moments”:
1. There’s More to Life (and AAC) Than Facebook
In a clever and captivating pre-conference session, Dr. Carole Zangari of PrAACtical AAC and Chris Bugaj of the A.T.TipsCast podcast and companion blog shared some cool new ways for busy AAC professionals to use technology in their service delivery. Sure, Facebook was in the mix, but also so much more! And this duo didn’t just stop at social media but revealed some powerful online tools that I hadn’t even heard of!
Amongst the tips and tricks shared:
- Tools to build interactive activities and images-such as, Screencasts. Image Captures, and Infographics. My favorite in this category - ThingLink, where you can take a catchy image and create little hot spots of interactivity, linked to videos, other pictures, text and more! I really saw some nice teaching opportunities in this tool, not only for my clients but for therapy students and parents.
- Tools for digital curation - such as the well known Pinterest and some lesser known web link curation options like Diigo and Livebinders.
- Tools for disseminating information to both professional and client audiences - such as Facebook Groups and pages where you can create a place for professional collaboration between care or education teams and parent/caregiver support. Speaking of valuable groups and pages on Facebook - if you’re interested in collaborating with other tech savvy SLPs looking to use social media and web technology in their service delivery, join the closed Facebook group AAC Practitioners in the 21st Century (created by Carole and Chris for this ISAAC talk) If Facebook isn’t your thing, you could also check out the Google+ AAC community here
- Digital tools for teaching - such as creating short “How to” videos for parents and other professionals on your care team using Vine (check out the slide show from this talk for great examples of this in action)
Unlike many other “app” and “tech” talks in the AT/AAC field that I’ve attended, this one actually had some well developed case examples for many of the tools provided which not only helped me trust the evidence basis, but also really get a picture for how to apply the technology to clients on my caseload. And because they really are the sharing type, you can find the slides for this presentation here: AAC Practitioners in the 21st Century: Leveraging Our Efforts through Social Media and Digital Technologies
2. Communicating in Boxes (or Grids) Isn’t For Everyone
Dr. Janice Light of Pennsylvania State University presented on some eye-opening research relating to grid-based communication displays and language intervention for early communicators (under the developmental stage of 4 years). This was one of those talks that left me thinking “oh dear, I’m doing it all wrong!” - but, I was jazzed to try these new ideas on for size with some of my little guys in the EI setting. Dr. Light and her team at PSU continue to explore the use of visual scene displays as a means of creating a context for early communicators that grid-based displays (i.e., vocabulary arranged in a grid of boxes) lack. She also discussed some considerations for the layout of these scene displays, including the use of personal photographs versus drawings or stock photographs, and the necessity to include people in the scene. The PSU team is exploring the use of the SnapScene app by Tobi Dynavox as one possible tool for creating AAC displays that may be more appropriate for early communicators. The AAC at PSU website has some great resources on considerations for the design of AAC displays here. There is also some great info on additional considerations for AAC intervention with young children here.
I always enjoy the research and evidence basis of Dr. Light’s talks and I was additionally excited to hear about some practical clinical strategies that I had already been using but didn’t know the name for! One of the strategies discussed: “just in time programming” - a fancy term to describe what you’re doing when you add a new word or phrase to a communication display as the opportunity arises during a communication interaction with the communicator. Dr. Light discussed the efficacy of this strategy, as well as some considerations in the development of AAC technology that makes implementing this strategy easier for communication partners (e.g., SLPs, educators, and parents). Here’s a poster presentation with just a snap shot of this research.
3. PECS CAN Help Early Communicators Be Spontaneous Communicators (If We Follow the Protocol!)
I admit that PECS is not usually a go-to strategy for me in my daily work these days, but nonetheless, I really appreciated this talk by Dr. Pat Mirenda which emphasized the use of PECS to support initiation of communication (i.e., spontaneity) in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This talk highlighted a common experience for me: encountering child after child in my work who have been “using PECs” for years and continue to require adult prompting to initiate communication using their system. It was suggested that this failure may be largely due to mistakes we make as communication interventionists in the implementation of the PECS protocol. Dr. Mirenda shared a great resource for continuing education on the correct implementation of PECS - the PECS module in Autism Internet Modules on the OCALI website. This resource has a full training, outlined step by step in written and video format, to correctly implement all phases of the PECS protocol. Whether you have been using PECS for years and need a refresher, are asking yourself “Wait-AM I doing this right?”, or are brand new to PECS, this resource is a must see. It’s free to sign up and you can even get CE credit for completing this or other modules on the site.
Dr. Mirenda also shared that there is a series of PECS apps that might be appropriate for certain users of the static system moving to a voice output option. Lastly - she started “speaking my language” when she emphasized the necessity to “move beyond PECS” and support communication with core and fringe vocabulary displays, simultaneously with PECS, or as a next step. This was definitely a moment of validation for me as my work revolves each day around core and fringe!