Friday, January 9, 2009

Assistive Technology Implementation: Keep it Simple!

Do you ever get dragged down in the mire of trying to think out each step of how to successfully implement assistive technology? Do you get into the "detail-itis" until it grows into a formidable project that you just aren't implementing well at all? Join the club!

I had a huge "Ah-ha" moment today and I want to tell you about it...
An SLP, a sped teacher and myself have been working on finding the right augmentative communication device for a middle school student. Last spring we trialed one make and model and are in the process of getting a trial kicked into gear on another. We have the software for the dynamic display device on a computer for the student to practice on until we get the real one for a 2 week loan. The problem has been that between all three of us as specialists, we have been trying to learn the software, get digital pictures on it of teachers, places around the school, etc. and find meaningful activities to practice with and see how the student responds. He is of regular cognitive ability, just has a real pronunciation and a language processing problem.
With tight schedules to work with, winter storms and closed schools before the holidays and the the holiday break, we had yet to get the student on the computer to explore the software.
Today the SLP and I sat at the computer and debated on how many folders were on the screen, how complicated it could be and confusing for him, etc. Finally, I said, "I would just like to simplify this whole process and let the student explore and look around the software awhile with me today. We are spinning our gears and making this whole thing too complicated. He can't drag this desktop computer around anywhere, so it can't be a real portable communication device for socialization in the lunchroom, etc. Let's wait until we get the real one to put some pictures and topics on. We have just got to bite the bullet and jump in - sink or swim!"
Even though the SLP agreed, she was still nervous that the student would just click around randomly on everything and not really accomplish anything. I re-assured her I would guide him
in his exploration and see what he could do. I wasn't upset with anyone and I wasn't frustrated, I was just feeling like I had been procrastinating and using "getting it right" as an excuse to not dive in where I was in unfamiliar territory. My message to you is - when you get that feeling, it is time to dive in!
So...enter the student.
We have worked together for several years and I have supported various SLP's in Elementary and now middle school that have worked with him. He is so ready for and wants a device. He has been very patient but is very motivated to communicate right now. He and I get along great and he had decided last summer that he wanted to try this new device out this year. I just felt bad that it had taken us until now to start. He sat down and I showed him the general main screen board and where it linked, how to write a sentence with the icon buttons and then click to hear it. He got excited.
We went to panels that were scenes: a classroom, a fast food restaurant, etc.
It was almost lunchtime and he began to build a sentence. "I want a hamburger." He looked at me and smiled. "I want a cheeseburger, chicken strips, pizza, pickles..."
"You must be VERY hungry!" I said. He laughed.
He checked out sizes of drinks and asked for a small drink icon and fries after it in the sentence strip, meaning a small fry. He wanted me to help him get small and large size buttons on the food menu page so he didn't have to use the cup size buttons. We set up the sizes in the foods and he was able to order sizes he wanted and build the requests.
By the time he was ready to go to lunch, he had made sense out of several of the boards, found things he wanted, was frustrated because some of the buttons didn't have the speech activated, and had me set the behaviors on them to speak the label. He watched me and by the last few, he was even doing the programming! (That says something about the software too - it was Series 5 semester ware for the V and Vmax from Dynavox.)
Do you think I felt like I shouldn't have jumped in today? No way! It was a huge success. By letting go of the fear of the unfamiliar and exploring with the student, I learned about him, the software and his potential. I found out that he can do much more than we give him credit for. He learned about me and how I can partner with him to get the most out of the device and I learned something about me too today - keep it simple and dive in. Kids are more flexible than we think and they survive more of our idiosynchrasies than we would ever wish to admit.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!


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