Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Communication is Key

It's getting to be IEP (Individualized Education Plan) season around here again. I probably won't be posting all that much up front about it - this time around we have an advocate because of all the problems there have been in implementing Acorn's plan this past school year (which have spilled over into the summer session too). And Leaf's IEP is really only marginally better, though the constraints on Early Intervention suggest to me that there isn't as much room for improvement there.

One of our key concerns for both children, given their medical history, is communication.

Acorn says less than a dozen words - and many of those, you have to know him to understand.

We sign at home. Not fluent ASL, but something akin to SEE (signed exact English) - we sign the words we know while we're saying them. I counted last week - Acorn uses about 4 dozen signs consistently, another 3 dozen or so inconsistently (or they're newly demonstrated). Our guess is that he actually understands several hundred.

It's not hard to imagine that Leaf too will be fairly adept at signing, since we already sign with her and around her and expose her to it all the time.

Our school district has expressed concerns about this, because in the view of those we've worked with thus far, sign language of any sort is "non-functional" because other people can't understand it unless they know it. They would rather Acorn use a communication device - an electronic device that says things when you press buttons (or, as many of the newer ones are, an electronic touch pad with configurable screens where touching the images makes it say things).

They've supposedly used the low tech version of this -  PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Symbols) cards - in the classroom, but have only documented getting him to use one card thus far.

We really don't much care either way - we suspect that Acorn and Leaf will find their own mix of using any or all of the above, along with verbal speech, depending on the situation at hand, until such time as they're fluent enough in English to make it their primary (but maybe not only) communication mode.

This week we had a private evaluation for a communication device; the school is supposed to be starting their evaluation (finally) this week. I'm not sure what either evaluation will recommend (though I've heard that the school's will likely recommend one specific piece of equipment because that's who they're contracted with). But among the verbal suggestions from our evaluation last week was that we needed to work with Acorn on getting the idea that he can tell us what he wants by pressing buttons or pointing at pictures. And another was to use the same sorts of pictures to build him a schedule that he can look at and point to, in the vein of "do this next."

So...we've been playing with our own equipment and some free and low-cost communication apps for Android. I'm making our own set of PECS cards. I've spent a lot of time looking at how others use things like PECS with non-verbal children. There are foods and holidays and articles of clothing, toys and feelings and medical cards too - just about anything you can think of.

In a lot of cases, specific sets of cards are used in specific circumstances to help the child work through what they need to do. For example, a bedtime set might include taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, combing hair, washing face, going to the bathroom, saying prayers, and sleep. We saw one set of 4, with a specific type of communication device, that sang "Itsy Bitsy Spider" one line at a time as you pushed the buttons.

And that got me to thinking (yes, I do get all the way back around to being a Pagan parent here)....what sorts of cards would we have for a ritual? or for going to a festival? Could we do chants this way? Prayers? How would we describe what we're doing in a two inch by two inch square?


  1. "Our school district has expressed concerns about this, because in the view of those we've worked with thus far, sign language of any sort is "non-functional" because other people can't understand it unless they know it."

    Isn't this true of any language? The SLPs I know absolutely count sign as functional language. Assholes.

  2. Yeah....well, you know, he won't be able to function in the world without spoken English - someone will have to go everywhere he goes to translate or something.

    Most of the people I've met who are Deaf disagree considerably.