Saturday, July 17, 2010

How to Address a Variety of Communication Purposes?

I have been spending a lot of time this summer researching communication.  Our classroom has been labeled a "communicatin-focused program".  This aligns nicely with my philosophy that we need to fous on communication first and foremost and from there we can take care of so much else (behaviour, academics, social growth...etc.).  We do focus on communication but I've been feeling lately that we need to grow our focus and therefore I've been spending some time researching a variety of approaches and items related to communication.  

I have spent a fair bit of time checking out websites and you can't research communication for our population without spending at least some time on  Linda Buckhar's website.  I was going back through the article entitled "Key Concepts for Using Augmentative Communication with Children Who Have Complex Communication Needs" this morning and it started me thinking a bit more about the various reasons we use communication and how we are perhaps only allowing the students in our room some of these purposes by not letting them play an active enough roll in their communications.  

I believe that the organization around PODD will help us with some of this but it did get me to thinking that I need to ensure that we as a staff are talking about the various purposes of communication and ensuring that we are using what we have currently to open up these purposes to our students.  So I've started a list of the reasons we communicate and how we can support our students to communicate in each of those areas.  Some of these things we are already doing.  Some we need to focus more on.  Either way reminders are always good to refocus us and so this is what I have so far.  

Purpose: To Meet Social Expectations
Description/Examples: saying hello and goodbye, getting someone's attention, teasing/playful interactions, using manners and acknowledging other's presense and/or communication (be it verbal or nonverbal). 

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Simple output devises like Big Mac Communicators can be set up in places that allow students to acknowledge other people's presence. 
  • Acknowledging and responding to gestures, facial expressions, verbal approximations (or it may just be verbal 'noise'), and body language.
  • Buddy programs with scripted communication that allows student to use these social norms.
  • Use of P.O.D.D. Communication System or a more complex, leveled communication devise - right now we do not do enough of this type of communicating and this is an area I want to expand in to a lot more over the next years
  • Functional Routines Instruction (as outlined in The STAR Program that we just got): This will ensure that students are being taught these social norms within the context that they are often used.
  • Pivotal Response Training: We had been using PRT sessions up to this point but must say that the description and details in The STAR Program will help us better focus this process.
  • Use of scipts as laid out in the book "Teaching Conversation Skills to Children With Autism: Scripts and Script Fading"
  • Encouage use of any other forms of communication that will work for a student (sign language, picture symbols, eye gaze...etc.)
  • RJ Cooper's Point to Picture software - set up the visuals and recordings to focus specifically on social interactions.
  • Playing Games
  • Buddy Programs with Peers
  • Community Based Instruction Program: We do not get out as much as I would like but when we do we try to focus on appropriate interactions in the community including the use of a variety of communication methods and devises.
Purpose: To Inform (or Gain Information)
Description/Examples: labeling people, places, things, sharing or showing, commenting, asking questions to clarify, comparing, contrasting, asking questions...etc.

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Labels around the classroom - both words and visuals.
  • Vocabulary building activities to expose students to a variety of vocabulary in a way that works for them (see future posts on Individual Programs for some of the activities we do in our room).
  • Labeling objects when using choice boards or general choice strategies.
  • Discrete Trail Teaching related to matching objects to visuals.
  • "Sharing Time" where students bring objects to show and parents have helped them to record explanations on a step-by-step.
  • "Sharing Time" where students bring talking photo albums and parents have recorded information about their pictures.
  • Yes/No Questioning
  • Use of a variety of communication methods to achieve this purpose (devises, gestures, approximations, signing, body language, communication books, visual boards...etc.)
  • Communication Bins: Bins organized around a specific topic with both visuals and items in the bin.  You then "play" with the bin and stimulate communication.  One example would be a "blowing bin" where there are a variety of items to blow (bubbles, candles, paper, whistle, balloons) and then the student picks the item and then can dictate things like make the balloon bigger or smaller, tie it up, make it squeak, throw it to me...etc.  Another example would be a manicure bin with a variety of things needed to do your nails including stickers and various colors of nailpolish.  Plan out what you're going to do and then proceed. The focus is always on communicating.  Note that this one fits under both this area and several other areas (particualrly the exerting influence area).
  • Interactive Books
  • Computer Programs that focus on bulding knowledge (First Words, First Words II, First Verbs, First Categories...etc.)
Purpose: To Express Feelings (or Pain)
Description/Examples: expression of feelings/pain, coming up with the reason (if needed) and working through a solution if needed.

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Process:
  • "I am upset because... You can help me by..." process as outlined by Kate on her blog.
  • Teach emotions and emotion regulation to all students.
  • Teach body parts to all students (to aide in locating pain).
  • Again - use of all different forms of communication.
  • In this area, I have seen many people try to shut down expression of emotion rather than assist the student in finding a more age-appropriate way in expressing the emotion.  I am a big believer in the fact that we should not be shutting down the emotion as we need to acknowledge and address it. 
Purpose: To Influence (Self Advocate and/or Exert Influence Over Others and the Environment)
Description/Examples: choice making, accepting, rejecting, protesting, asserting independence, neotiating, stating opinions

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Incorporating choices in to all activities - be it yes/no, eye gaze to choice, pointing to choices...etc.
  • Having a definitive way for student to say "no" or "stop" and allowing the student to exert that influence over their environment when appropriate (and responding in a respectful way with an age-appropriate explanation when the situation requires it).
  • Allowing for all different forms of communication to achieve this purpose.
  • Communication Temptations: setting up a situation so that the student need to communicate to get what they want.  Example: give student pudding but not a spoon and student needs to ask for spoon in order to proceed
  • Choice Boards
Purpose: To Imagine (or Talk About Past or Future Events)
Description: make belief stories, telling stories of things that have happened, talking about upcoming events

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Timelines and Schedules for students - visual, agenda, on computer...etc. (whatever is most appropriate for the student)
  • Step-by-steps to inform about evening and day at school: We send them back and forth each day with new messages and then the student tells us or his/her parents about the events that happened in either place.
  • Home-School Communication Books: visual books that include what was done, what was enjoyed, what wasn't, what student is proud of, how they felt that day and how they slept the night before.  We spend time doing recall activities to fill out these books each day.
  • Questioning
  • Talking about past events - when we are growing the concept of recall we start with things like "What did we just finish doing?" as opposed to "What did we do this morning?"
  • Incorporating assignments that have parents help students to tell about things that have happened.  Example: what did you do this summer project where students bring talking photo albums to share their story.
  • Again - encouraging all different types of communication to achieve this focus.

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