Saturday, August 31, 2013

Who Comes Up With This Stuff?

One of the joys of social media is the opportunity to hear from diverse situations on important topics. And one of the challenges is that sometimes those voices are less informed that it is advisable to listen too. Websites like "Pinterest Fail" make poor or badly given advice amusing, but what happens when the ill advised suggestions is about something more serious than a chocolate cake recipe?

One of our responsibilities as teachers is to be sure we are following best practice and best practice isn't always represented on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or Tumbler. For example, in spite of what we know is researched based, best practice about high expectations, core words and presuming competence in the absence of other evidence it is common to read that we should, for example, start with or require mastery of low technology eye gaze boards before trying high technology eye gaze AAC (and no student is in a position of "absence of other evidence" than a student who has only have eye gaze for communication!) or that we should start by offering only a few choices and not increasing vocabulary until those choices (nouns, of course) are mastered, rather than starting with aided language stimulation and core words as research tells us we should.

As we move with our students into the new school year let us remember that it is our job to examine the advice we hear on social media and compare it to research based evidence proven practice before we decide what and how to teach our students. They deserve our effort!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This I Believe:

This I believe...

I believe my students can.
Can understand. 
Can learn.
Can achieve.
Can beat the odds.
Can surpass plateaus.
Can communicate.
Can reach for the stars.
And grab them.

I believe my students deserve:
Deserve a chance.
Deserve the presumption of competence.
Deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Deserve high expectations.
Deserve to spend time enjoying friendships.
Deserve to make mistakes.
Deserve to tease and be teased.
Deserve to be in their community.
Deserve a bad day.  And lots and lots of good ones.
Deserve a life that is more that yes, no and constant assessment.
Deserve a highly qualified teacher.
Deserve a say.
Deserve to be heard.
Deserve literacy.
Deserve health. 
Deserve joy.

I believe a difference can be made.
Through kindness.
Through connection.
Through dedication.
Through research and scholarship.
Through constant re-dedication to quality teaching.
Through entering that classroom every day and teaching like lives depend on it.
Because they do.

I need my communication system!

From time to time I visit a former student of mine.  He is a great young man: full of smiles, a ready laugh and a star on his speech device.  Recently, I stopped by and his mom told me that he was feeling down.  He hadn't been communicating using his Tobii eye gaze driven speech device or his gestures.  He also had not been laughing or smiling much.  I was puzzled, but thought perhaps it was related to some changes happening in his life.

Eventually we sat together and I could see that while he was trying to activate his speech device it wasn't working.  The minute I touched the screen and went into the eye gaze menu he started smiling and pointing at me and then the screen.  He knew something no one else knew - his device setting were wrong - and he knew finally someone was going to figure it out!  It turned out his eye gaze profile had been deleted, which means that the device wouldn't work properly.  Also the amount of time it would take for him to activate a message had been turned up very, very high.  I won't speculate on how or why these things happened, or on why it hadn't been noticed by the professionals in his life whose job it is to notice these things.  I will speculate on the utter lack of training we, as professionals, offer parents and caregivers of augmentative and alternative communication devices.  If we trained parents better ("we" means schools including SLPs, AT specialists, teachers as well as vendor companies) this sort of thing would happen less.  Let us all take it upon ourselves this year to teach parents how to recognize when there is a problem with assistive technology and what to do about it!

I will also speculate on the fact that when I was a teacher I did not give my student a way to communicate that he needs his speech device or that it is not working correctly.  To that end I have created a couple items over at the Teacher Learners with Multiple Needs Cafe Press store.  They are text and symbol based bracelets, dog tags, stickers and pins that say either, "I need my communication system." or "I need my communication device."  The goal of these items is to attach the stickers to wheelchairs, beds, tables, walls, side of pools, mirror, sinks, etc. or have the student wear the jewelry or pin  and to teach them to point to the message when they need their device.  Note:  (Communication Bracelets also sells a fill-in-the-blank "I want_____." bracelet.  Linda Burkhart also sells "I need my book" bracelets if you are lucky enough to see her present.)

Additionally I would like to suggest that everyone make, laminate and attach to speech devices a quick troubleshooting guide that includes a section about when the individual is communicating less than usual and what to check both on the device and with the individual.  Send me pictures of what you create and I will share your ideas!

A Hero's Journey

This story was written by Sean Stenglein using his Tobii C-15 with the Word Power Software through eye gazes control.  Sean was asked to write about A Hero's Journey at school and this was the result, unedited.   I met Sean at Camp Communicate in Maine last weekend and he agree to provide us all with a little back to school inspiration.  This year it is on us: teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists to travel with our students on their hero's journeys.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teaching Switch Skills - Beyond Cause and Effect

Switch skills are a basic in classrooms for learners with multiple or significant disabilities.  Switches give
children (and adults) with limited motor skills the ability to control nearly anything.

Unfortunately many teachers, paraprofessionals and others working with our students do not receive much training in teaching switch use.  Some assume that the ability to hit a switch for cause and effect activities (make the toy walk or make the computer game change) is the ultimate goal, but that isn't true.  A switch or switches are a means to an end.  The switch is a tool for controlling other things - toys, games, appliances, computers, power wheelchairs and more.  Teaching switch use is about moving from learning what the switch does to learning to use the switch to do things.  Our goal should never be to "activate the switch 10 times in 30 minutes" or "in 8 out of 10 trials"; instead our goal is to complete a task, be it leisure, vocational, academic or something else using a switch or switches.

Many of our students get "stuck" on cause and effect, not because they aren't capable of more, but because we don't know how to tell when they are ready for more or what to do next.  Once a child can activate a switch and anticipates/attends to what the switch does they are ready for more.  If you are not sure if they are anticipating or attending then make the, "least dangerous assumption" and presume competence and move on.  Ian Bean has a great slide show you can look at called, "Beyond Cause and Effect." The free Switch Progression Road Map is also a must read.

What do we do next?  That depends.  If the child is capable of using two switches then we introduce a second switch.  This might be two switches at the hands or sides of the head; it might be one at the hand and one at the head; it might be two finger switches or one at the left elbow and one at the right knee... the possibilities are endless. Whatever two locations the child is able to activate deliberately and with control.  The first learned switch site usually (but not always) becomes the "chooser", "selector" or "this one" switch.  The new switch site becomes the "mover", "scanner" or "not this one" switch.  Now the student begins work on two switch scanning.  Don't worry if the student doesn't "get it" at first, it is a learning process!  Moving beyond that single switch for cause and effect is a huge gift you are giving your student!   Linda Burkhart has a great hand-out on moving from cause and effect to two switch scanning .  See below for software and websites to use to work on two switch scanning.  Here is a link to an animation of two switch scanning.

What happens if the child is only able to activate a single switch?  Well, no matter the location of the switch, we start to work on timing the switch hit.  If the child can see and hear we start working with an auditory and visual scan with a long enough pause over each choice for the student to decide and activate the switch.  If the child has vision or hearing difficulties we enhance the scan to accommodate for challenges, verbal prompts for a student who has vision issues, bright lights or colors that correspond with the scan for those with hearing problems, tactile cues such as vibration for students who are deafblind.  You can see an animation of single switch scanning here.

There are many companies which sell software for teaching switch use and there are two companies which
sell subscriptions to online switch activities.  Additionally there are now apps for iPad and Android to teach switch skills.  Again it is advisable to avoid software or apps, especially expensive ones, which focus ONLY on cause and effect, the goal is to move students past this as soon as possible.  (Note this list is of software that teaches switch use and is not inclusive of all switch accessible programs or apps.)


  • Judy Lynn Software 
  • Inclusive TLC
  • Marblesoft

  • Online Programs:
    A comparison of two online, subscription based switch programs.

    Thursday, August 8, 2013

    A Day with the AT MacGuyver

    Therese Willkomm with her switch activated
     Red Light/Green Light device
    Last week I had the great pleasure of spending a day with Therese Willkomm, know as the AT MacGuyver, in Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes II.
    her lab at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).  Also present were Therese's delightful daughter (and lab intern for the day), Megan, and a student at UNH, Stacy.  Therese builds all sorts of assistive technology interventions with common materials and has recently published her second book on the topic,

    Our morning was filled first with experimenting with Google Plus and Therese's awesome beta version of Google Glass.  Then we had an exciting tour of all of Therese's favorite materials: Loc-line, Uglu, industrial Velcrocoroplast (corrugated plastic), plastic cassette cases and more.  I learned how to make a Traveling Eileen iPad/book stand (and so can you, watch the video).

    After a wonderful lunch in the UNH cafeteria and shop talk we returned to the lab.  We spend some time sort of off-topic talking about Waze, one of my favorite GPS apps and then got down to business.  In record time Therese, Stacy and I built an iPhone stand for my iPhone and I learned how to make tactile graphics for students with low vision on touch screen tablets!

    Just a couple of days after I had the chance to spend time with Therese I used one of the AT adaptables she introduced to me, Wall Corner Guards (those clear plastic strips you attach to the corners of your wall to protect your wallpaper or paint job from damage), to block the buttons on an adaptive trackball I was using with a student!  So cool.

    Therese shares many of her creations and ideas online.  Her YouTube channel is full of great how-to videos.  You can also check out the how-to documents on the UNH website.

    You can purchase the new book, Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes II: Ordinary Items, extraordinary Solutions from the Institute on Disabilities website.  Also, don't miss the first book, Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes.

    If you are interested in seeing Therese speak you can usually catch her at ATIA, Closing the Gap and other large assistive technology conferences or you can take a workshop or class at UNH.  You can also talk a live webinar with Therese in November 2013.  Better yet you can invite her to present to your school or agency.

    What would you do with this?
    Therese also issued me a little challenge I am passing on to my readers.  What ideas for you have for using this 1/2 plastic buckle component in the service of meeting assistive technology needs for your students (or anyone else)?

    Contact Me at:

    Contact Me at:

    Visit our advertisers:

    Fujitsu Computer Systems Corporation, LLC Try Nick Jr. Boost FREE for 7 Days ... Label the things you love !! Build-A-Bear HearthSong - Toys Outlet