Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

At-Home Learning and AAC Solutions Are All in the Details

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

At-Home Learning and AAC Solutions Are All in the Details

Article excerpt

Home-based learning involves juggling many realities to bring out the abilities of medically fragile students. Many homebound learners use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for self-expression. Here's a glimpse of what this means.

The people

Collaboration is inevitable. Home teachers and therapists, usually school district employees or independent contractors, change periodically. Whether with the student long- or short-term, it helps for them to be aware of each others' teaching/treatment styles. Daily activity logs keep everyone in the loop.

"Resources, expectation and emotion are big variables," said Jill King, speech-language pathologist and assistive technology program facilitator at Placer County Office of Education in Northern California. "Districts know they have increasingly limited resources, and are attempting to manage those carefully. At the same time, there are parents who want limited involvement from the school, and those that want the equivalent of a school day, with one-on-one support to their child, in the home setting."

At-home instruction is effective when teams honor priorities, say Lesley McGilligan and Alyson Diaz-Kleine, augmentative communication facilitators for the Special School District of St. Louis County in Missouri. "Making individualized education plan (IEPs) the primary reference point is usually best practice," says Sharon Maack-Connolly, assistive technology coordinator at Elim Christian School in Palos Heights, Illinois.

Something to strive for in AAC use, McGilligan and Diaz-Kleine say, is consistency across communication environments, whether through a device or printed supports for academic or social purposes.

Keeping peer connections means a lot, whether classmates pay visits to debrief the homebound student on school happenings, as McGilligan and Diaz-Kleine suggest, or the student uses AAC with siblings.

Email and telephones break isolation. Use of live web cams to bring classrooms home may be the next frontier. The prospect hardly diminishes the power of handwritten letters or digital greetings.

The time and place

Predictability, routine, and structure are helpful when combined with simplicity and time management. Maack-Connolly said, "Being realistic, there are elements that upset that balance."

Family schedules may conflict with lesson plans. The student may be fatigued. An alternate device set-up may be necessary in certain rooms of the house. It's critical to have a back-up communication system ready in case the device is unavailable. Printed topical communication boards made with magnetic cookie sheets, calendars, or dry erase boards, or magnetically affixed to a refrigerator, are viable solutions and catalysts for rich mealtime conversation opportunities, McGilligan said.

And more tools

Teachers and therapists vary in AAC experience. Some learn by shadowing predecessors or parents in a home or hospital setting. McGilligan and Diaz-Kleine, who frequently conduct Boardmaker[TM] trainings, find that creating materials using the software is a good starting point for homebound staff lacking exposure to electronic AAC devices. Despite rapid change, professionals concede that technology remains largely intuitive. For students, operational competence is a work in progress, King said.

"All the technology in the world can't be successful unless a teacher knows how to make it work for a student," said Jennifer Kaiser, a special education teacher in Northern California's Rocklin Unified School District.


Kaiser's student Katie Poore is like many other 14-year-olds when school gets to be the "same old, same old." Katie wants to liven up things and makes sure her teachers get the message--sometimes giving them the silent treatment, often shaking her head ferociously until they see things her way.


When Kaiser met Katie last spring, she knew from reading Katie's IEP that her student did well with activity-based learning and humor. …

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