Ideas & Tips
Our team has been using digital cameras to support students with learning and communication needs for a few years. We have found it particularly useful because pictures can be stored on the computer and easily retrieved. Alterations can be made to the photo so background is deleted or unnecessary background can be cropped. It has proven to be a very helpful tool not just for communication displays, but for supplementary modifications in the classrooms.
When the students have taken part in the picture taking process, we have seen the students relate to the pictures well because of the immediate feedback they receive from the display on the camera. This has transferred to more success when the student uses the communication display created from the pictures.
Here is a list of some ways we have found the digital camera useful:
photos of objects for choice making. This is helpful when the student needs the representation to look exactly like the object.
photos of activities for visual calendars or schedule systems
photos for sequencing activities and routine tasks, for example the steps for washing your hands or completing a job skill
photos of specific people in particular environments
photos demonstrating how a student may best use a device or switch
Email the Assistive Technology Team for more information about using the digital camera with your students who use augmentative communication.
Gestures and Augmentative Communication
A shrug of the shoulder, a glance towards the clock, the rise of an eyebrow: these are all actions that send powerful information to our communication partners. For all of us, gestures, facial expressions and body language are essential components of the communication process.
It is important for us to remember to encourage and facilitate gestural communication in our augmentative communicators as well. Supporting the use of gestures can add to the meaning, effectiveness and ease of the AC communicator's expression, thereby increasing their communication competence.
Mary Hunt Berg in her article in Augmentative Communication News (July 2000) discusses the following reasons for teaching and reinforcing gestures with augmented communicators.
Gestures are always with us, they do not require equipment
Everyone uses gestures....even people who are blind learn to use gestures.
Gestures serve to enhance interactions.
Research indicates that gestures may assist in the acquisition of language skills.
Presymbolic gestures can serve as a forerunner to meaningful expression.
The following are some intervention ideas that are discussed in the article:
Educate communication partners about the importance of gestures for enhancing communication interactions of augmented speakers.
Assist new communication partners with becoming familiar with the adaptive gestures of the non speaking person. Video and gesture dictionaries which give descriptions of idiosyncratic movements and their meaning can be useful tools.
Communication partners should provide gestural input by using gestures along with words when communicating with the augmented communicator. In addition to conventional gestures, input can also include individualized adapted gestures and signs.
Be responsive to body language. This includes providing verbal input and gestural input about their non verbal behavior, (e.g., "Alex is pointing to the cookie, Alex wants a cookie").
Support expressive output by working on the intelligibility and readability of a persons' gestures.
Encourage and model the use of multimodal communication. This would include using gestures in combination with augmentative communication systems and with natural speech.
Set up communication opportunities and routines which incorporate the use of gestures as an integral part of a multimodal communication system throughout the day.
One additional point to add is to make sure that families and school keep each other updated about adapted signs that the student may be using. This is important in order to assure that everyone is assigning the same meaning to modified gestures and to generalize new skills between environments.
In summary, augmented communicators can benefit greatly from the use of gestures. Often times we get so focused on the technology or the low-tech communication boards that we forget about the "built-in" ability to gesture. It is important that we make a conscious effort to incorporate gestures as part of a student's multimodal communication system. Providing training to partners, receptive input to the student, ongoing skill building to teach gestures and opportunities throughout the day to use gestures will greatly assist in developing more efficient, intelligible communication.
by Mary Beth Dorsey, SLP