Special Devices

Bringing augmentative and alternative communication into the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Holly Chrostowski 

CREDIT DynaVoxIt’s amazing how technologically advanced our society has become in the past decade. Just a few years ago, cell phones were reserved for traveling salespeople and early tech adapters. Today, technology is everywhere. From third graders taking field trip pictures on their own mobile phones, to restaurants transitioning to electronic menus presented on tablets. Technology has made great strides in the education industry as well, and this shift has positively impacted the needs of students with disabilities.

Many students with special needs depend on devices to communicate and participate in classroom activities.

No two students are alike. And just like neurotypical students, those with special needs require individualized attention in the classroom. This may be particularly challenging for educators or speech language pathologists (SLPs), who must adhere to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and adapt curriculum to meet personalized learning needs. Many students with special needs depend on devices to communicate and participate in classroom activities. Welcoming this technology into special education classrooms can help each student reach his or her full potential.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices are just one of many beneficial tools for students with special needs, especially those who experience speech and language difficulties. In these cases, the student may find it difficult to communicate verbally, or are simply not able to communicate at all. He or she might depend on a speech-generating or AAC device to communicate and learn. Plainly defined, AAC is any method of nonverbal communication. In fact, most people use AAC on a daily basis. Whether a friendly wave or an animated facial expression, AAC is used in addition to, or instead of, everyday speech. Students with speech and language challenges often use AAC devices to communicate their needs to those around them.

AAC tools can range from communication books, cards and boards, to highly technical instruments, such as message devices and communication systems. While many students already use these tools outside of the classroom, they can be a great addition to curriculum created in schools and districts. Education professionals can contribute to and promote the use of AAC devices with additional accessories and software. For example, a student might personally own a DynaVox T10 speech-generating device, which they use in school and everyday life. But through the accompanying AAC application, DynaVox Compass, and continued professional development, educators and SLPs can better support students with complex communication needs.

Educators interested in learning more about AAC tools, or those who currently have a student with a communication device, can also prepare a communication plan to support interaction and responses with an AAC user. Similarly, professionals can implement a communication breakdown plan that would assist in repairing potential miscommunication with the student. Because these techniques may already be in place with the student and their parent or caregiver, it is important to understand which communication methods the student prefers.

The rapid changes in technology can be intimidating, especially when incorporating new software and devices into curriculum. By welcoming ACC technology into the classroom, educators are not only helping students with special needs learn more effectively – they are giving students a voice.

Holly Chrostowski is a school-based SLP for Hampton Township school district, located just north of Pittsburgh. Holly graduated from Penn State University and has worked in the field of Speech-Language Pathology for over 12 years. She is married with an eight-year-old daughter. In her free time, Holly enjoys running and reading, among other hobbies. Write to: hollychros@yahoo.com

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