Evidence-Based AAC Interventions for Infants, Toddlers, & Preschoolers with Janice Light at ASHA
By Samuel Charles Sennott
The opening sentiment was: “How do we provide access to the magic and the power of language and communication for young children with complex communication needs who require AAC?”
Dr. Light demonstrated a terrific research project out of Penn State that seeks the answer to this question and lays out a framework for accomplishing it for very young children. By the end of this presentation, I was trembling. For a number of years now, since I delved into the work of Maria Montessouri I have had this wonder about early childhood and learners with significant special needs who use AAC. I think I was so moved because I saw here a team that is actively seeking and finding answers to those questions. Seeing the video of the case studies was truly amazing. Not only because the children were so young, but because the “intervention” looked so natural.
Dr. Light, in the two hour workshop, took the group on a journey that in many ways we are familiar with. The stages she was presenting were familiar, as working from play to more in depth communication and literacy instruction is what I have immersed myself in both practice and research over the past years. Yet, this was with children as young as six months old! Additionally, there was a clear focus on ease of access and purity in the cognitive clarity of the tasks, err games rather. From using an old school Gemini to the Linda Burkhart style games and songs, they made teaching very young children the basics of access and AAC look familiar, possible, and integrated. This amazing presentation really showed both what is possible and that we can do it! Here are a few of the key principles described :
- Start early
- Keep the activities authentic and in the natural environment
- Focus on sustained turn taking activities that are more than just need and want based
- Model, model, model
- Have a dynamic system that can grow exponentially
- Keep it super fun
Everything that Dr. Light described seemed very possible and many of us have most of the resources that would be necessary already in our toolkits. Yet, additionally, she really drove home the meaning behind the Visual Scene Display work. She described the work better than anyone I have ever heard, teaching us how the whole purpose of it is to make the entry into the system as much like a child thinks as possible. From the visual representation comparisons to PCS pictures that made us all kind of blush to the seemingly obvious focus on the most interesting people and things in the child’s environment this section of the presentation truly was a lesson in teaching and child development.
There is plenty more to unpack here, but I really wanted to keep this post relatively simple, as there is a wealth of resource to check out in the webcast. Ultimately, this session really brought a great deal into perspective for me in both my present work and the work that is in the future. It also seemed to sum up my experience at ASHA, which taught me the importance of good research combined with teaching children very well.
Yet, most importantly this work reminds us to think like the people we are working with, in this case young children. Over the coming weeks, I am excited to share the work my classroom has started on the subject.