Sunday, May 28, 2017

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program (FREE book for kids!) (visual menu)

I recently found out that Barnes & Noble has a summer reading program for kids (grades 1-6), through which each child can earn 1 free book! 

(image is logo on the front of the B&N Summer Reading journal)

Here's how it works:
1. Read 8 books.
2. Fill out reading journal for these books (title, author, favorite part).
3. Bring completed reading journal to participating B&N store and claim your free book!

(image is the back page of the B&N Summer Reading Journal, listing the free book choices)

There are 24 books to choose from when selecting a free book: eight for grades 1-2, eight for grades 3-4, and eight for grades 5-6. These books are listed (title/author) in the back of the reading journal, but I wasn't able to find a visual menu anywhere online, so I made one. A visual menu of books increases accessibility for those who can't independently read/remember the titles and provides an easier means of selection for those who can demonstrate choice more easily by pointing to an image----and also, who doesn't appreciate seeing the cover when you're choosing a book?  If your child would benefit from a visual menu of the books, this menu can be downloaded (for free) here. 

(Image is the visual book menu. It contains pictures of the 24 available book covers, broken into the 3 grade level categories)

Here's the link to more information about the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program (kind of tricky, scroll about halfway down the page to see the information, including the journal download):

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Leap: AAC by 18 months, 3 years later

This post is a 3-years-later follow up to my blog post AAC by 18 Months.

Yesterday morning I received a message reminding me that (exactly) three years ago, I shared this status on Facebook. 

Three years ago yesterday was when I decided to lock our modeling/play iPad into guided access and give it to Will, so that he could have his own talker.

He was 17 months old. His speech at the time was on track as a 17 month old---he had a bunch of word approximations (I have them written down somewhere), he would label and request objects, and he wasn’t combining words yet (again, typical for 17 months).

On 2/22/2014 I gave him a talker because he really wanted one. Because it was hard to keep him away from Maya’s talker, and because I thought that introducing him to AAC would deepen their relationship and communication . . . and because AAC is an important part of our family culture.

I also gave it to him because, at that point, I had been running my big mouth online for a few years. I had been shouting into the void that people needed to “provide robust AAC early!” I had argued with parents and professionals in online groups, and confidently declared that “AAC will NOT impede speech development!” and that “When speech becomes easier to access, it will be used!”

And now I had Will, 17 months old, in the adorable early stages of developing his speech, and I was about to put a screen in front of him (a screen! the horror!) and let him use that to communicate.

Guys . . . I was really scared. Like, pit-of-my-stomach, what-if-I’m-about-to-really-mess-up-as-a-mom, it’s-all-well-and-good-to-insist-this-won’t-cause-problems-but-this-is-my-kid’s-future-speech-we’re-talking-about scared. I-can-already-hear-friends-and-family-judging-me-for-giving-my-toddler-a-talking-device scared.

I wish that all professionals could try on this type of fear. With Maya, who had no speech, I ran into the world of AAC with open arms, thirsty to learn and buy and implement and immerse.  Deciding to give AAC to Will, and struggling with the emotions that were a part of that decision, allowed me to understand what the process is like for parents of children who have some speech and are being told that they should add AAC into the communication mix. The fear of losing speech, or slowing speech development, is huge. Parents agonize over all sorts of parenting decisions (If I hide vegetables in brownies will my kids ever learn to eat non-hidden vegetables? Will TV time stifle creativity? Will tricking my children into thinking it’s bedtime 30 minutes earlier tonight lead to trust issues?) . . . and those ones don’t carry potential consequences that feel so big.

I am an AAC parent-advocate. I have read a ton of AAC research. I’m heavily involved in AAC networks.

I struggled.

But I gave it to him.

And 3 years later, I can tell you what has happened as a result of that decision.
  • We were able to avoid many toddler tantrums related to not understanding our child’s early speech, because he could use AAC as a back-up, or as a way to give clues as to what he was thinking.
  • Will’s speech milestones (2 word combinations, sentences, questions, etc.) all occurred either on time or early.
  • He began speaking new word approximations after using those words on a talker (e.g., he may have found “blueberries” on the talker and used that button a lot for a few days, and then I’d hear him verbally producing a form of “blueberries”).
  • Will and Maya connected in new, deep, amazing ways. For her, Will reinforced that using a talker is just something that people do. For himself, he got to be like his big sister, whom he adores. They giggled together. She taught him how to find new things. He showed her things he wanted to talk about. They still, to this day, make up games about finding words or saying silly sentences.
  • As Will spoke more and words became more clear, he used those words on the talker less . . . just as I had said online (when speech is more easily accessible, it will be used).
  • Will became an expert in communication repair. He is the most multi-modal 4 year old communicator I’ve ever seen. If he’s saying a word unclearly or can’t remember a word, he will act it out, give amazing clues, tell us words that it sounds like, etc. When he was 2-3 (and so much speech is somewhat unintelligible) he used the talker for communication repair in clever, fantastic ways.
  • Will began reading at an age earlier than expected, which I believe is partially due to text exposure and keyboard use.
  • He uses the talker now the way that a child might use a dictionary for spelling---he’ll ask me how to spell a word to write down, but if I’m not quick he’ll grab a talker. Or he’ll start typing in the search feature and then check out spellings of multiple words.
  • His receptive and expressive language and vocabulary are very high (above 90th percentile at last measurement).

It is unlikely, therefore, that early introduction of AAC had any negative impact on his speech or language development.

It’s been good. Enlightening. Endearing and surprising. Stunning, sometimes. Silly and fun and inspiring, in ways. Amazing.

But that leap . . . it’s tough.

Parents, if you are considering AAC for a nonverbal or minimally verbal little one, but holding back because you’re scared, take the leap. Your child deserves the words, in whatever way they can access them right now. The research says that AAC will not impede speech or language development---it will actually support speech and language development as it provides your child with a voice.

Professionals, the fear is real. Parents may not be holding back because AAC is tough to learn, or difficult to logistically manage, or cumbersome, or unfamiliar. They might be really scared of making the “wrong” choice for their child---they might worry that providing AAC to a little one may seem like an easier way to access words right now, at the cost of risking long term speech development. It’s your job to create a supportive, open environment in which these discussions can be had, to acknowledge these (very real) fears, to provide information and support, and to help these families connect with other AAC families (online or in person).

The struggle is real.
The risk feels real.
The leap is big.
The rewards are kind of limitless.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why We Didn't Use AAC At All Yesterday

(a (hypothetical) letter from a parent to a therapist)*

Dear SLP,

We didn't use the talker at all yesterday. Not one little bit. I had plans to use it---no really, I did! I had a whole activity in mind! What happened, you ask? Life, homework, and life again.

To start with, things are busy here. I was only home with Maya for 90 minutes, and you might as well call that 45, once you subtract the home-from-school 20 mins (that's for putting coats and shoes away, reviewing items in backpack, fixing a snack, etc.) and the Mom's-about-to-leave 25 mins (that's for making and serving dinner, packing my bags for school, finding the papers that I've misplaced since the morning, etc). So 45 mins. During that time, today, we had to make Maya's "100 Days" poster for school.

Maya had already said she wanted to show 100 cotton balls, and I had cut out "jars" for the cotton balls. I thought about all of the ways that we could use the talker for that project. We could talk about how the glue feels, or counting. Grouping cotton balls, putting them in jars, moving them around, a top row of jars and a bottom row. We could talk about how the cotton balls feel, where cotton comes from, what things in our home are made of cotton. We could make piles of extra cotton balls, or little snowmen, or pretend that they are marshmallows that we could gobble up.

I was ready. I was invested. I was energized!

But Maya was tired. Turns out the Valentine's Day dance had wiped her out. There was much staring into space, and much resting her head on the table. Every group of ten that we counted took several re-starts, since she was kind of just moving her hands without looking and staring into the distance (and I wasn't going to do it for her, so we kept starting over). Modeling + helping to stay focused on counting cotton balls = challenging (maybe pointless?). And the counting was more important than the modeling.

And the glue. My word, the glue. Do you know what happens if you get a little glue on your fingers and then try to count cotton balls? They all stick to you. And to each other. And it's really hard to peel them off, because now they have glue on them and they just stick to your non-glued fingers (by the way, now your non-glued fingers have become glued fingers). There's no way to use a talker with gluey, cotton-ball covered fingers.

The poster was made. The talker wasn't used. But I sure invested a lot of thought ahead of time into all of the great stuff I would model while making the poster. Maybe next time.

An AAC mom who's doing her best

*this is a true story, but not a true letter, because we don't have an SLP who assigns AAC homework or checks up on our home use (kind of wish we did!). It's provided to serve a little window into how sometimes a family "who didn't even use the talker at all after school yesterday" may have really tried their best, despite having nothing to show for it in the data log. AAC professionals, the best way for you to foster AAC carryover at home is to create an open dialogue in which families feel comfortable (and not judged) sharing their barriers to home use. Then you can help supply short, simple-to-implement ideas to help increase AAC use at home!

(image is Maya and Will sitting together before Maya's bus came this morning. She is holding her completed 100 days poster. Will is making a silly face because he was saying "look at this poster!"---but he liked this picture and told me to use this one)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


As NYC looks ahead to a likely storm tonight (woohoo! snow!) I'm thinking about driving on ice. I didn't know the fun of driving on ice until college, when a friend had me drive to a (large, totally empty) parking lot and purposefully induce a slide. It was fun, and freeing, and there wasn't really anything for the driver (me) to do. We just slid.

In my AAC family, we've just been sliding.

Not doing anything.

Don't get me wrong, the talkers are here. We use them for writing, or for homework. We always bring at least one with us when we go out. When Maya tells me that we need to add a word, we add the word. And . . . that's about it.



But sliding forever . . . it won't really get you where you're trying to go. It's fun. And maybe when it's snowing and icy you just need to take a break and let the slide take over for a bit. Eventually, though, if you don't lean forward and start driving again, you'll never get out of the parking lot.

And while I won't continue the analogy through the specifics of wheel turning and brake usage, I will offer this: to get out of a slide, you really need one thing: traction.

To get out of a metaphorical slide you need traction, too.

And so yesterday afternoon, in the space between getting the kids home from school and leaving for my night class, I made the first move toward gaining traction. I decided that I was going to model (which Maya has been somewhat resistant to) and that I needed a motivating, simple activity---one quick enough that I would still have time to make dinner and pack for school, yet motivating enough that the kids would have to attend to the talker, because how-could-they-not. Something that would give me the feeling that I had been successful---actively modeled, engaged the kids---while still being totally manageable (because there's only so much time between getting Maya off the bus and running out the door for my class). Just one activity. And a few purposeful minutes of modeling. A little traction.

Solution = secrets and cookies.

First, I told them verbally that I had a secret. (That's all it takes to get their rapt attention.)

Then, I got a talker. And I stopped speaking and started exclusively using a talker for communication. I said things like this:
  • I got you something.
  • It's hiding.
  • You can't find it.
  • I thought that maybe we could . . . (then I paused for dramatic effect, as they hopped and wiggled and said "what?! what?!")
  • Go to sleep. Repeat whole sentence: I thought that maybe we could go to sleep. (giggles, shouts of "no!")
  • I thought that maybe we could slice and bake. (long pause, they started to ask for more info)
  • What could we slice and bake? (they are unsure)
  • Could we bake a shoe? (No!)
  • Could we bake a banana? (No!)
  • What could we bake? (Maya said "cake")
  • What else? ("Cookies")
  • Yes!
  • Maybe we could bake cookies (And there was much rejoicing)
(for the record: between each of my utterances I sat back away from the talker, so that if a child wanted to jump in and say something they could. No one did.)

And then, the talker was ignored as we washed hands, grabbed a bar of refrigerated cookie dough and child knives, and got to slicing.

Traction. Just a little bit.

Enough to start the pull out of the slide.

And cookies.

(image is a photo of the talker's screen, taken yesterday afternoon. The screen reads: Maybe we could bake cookies)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I may not live to see our (AAC) glory, but I will gladly join the fight.

(Originally posted on our Facebook page on 6/9/16. That post, and comments, can be seen here.)

The AAC times, they are a-changing.

I believe this.

I believe that one day SLP students will sit in (a mandatory) AAC class and learn about the history of AAC.

They will learn about prerequisite skills for AAC . . .cognition that is not too low, being attentive and 'motivated to communicate', ability to match symbols to words, solid fine motor skills, minimal to no 'negative behaviors', not too young and not too old.

They will be appropriately shocked by the notion that there were once considered to be prerequisite skills for use of a robust AAC system.

They will learn about the AAC hierarchy . . . first a child must recognize and match photos with labels, then more abstract pictures. First a child must select from a field of 2, then 4, then 6, and so on up the even-numbered-marching ladder. First a child must be able to understand categories and which items belong in each category, because how else will they find breakfast foods? First a child must successfully use no tech, then low tech, then, if mastery is demonstrated, high tech.

They will be appropriately horrified.

They will wring their hands over the children who were victims of this outdated, dangerous approach to AAC. They will somberly reflect upon the children who lived and died and understood and sat in basement classrooms with no way to say anything meaningful, the way that we currently somberly reflect upon the children with disabilities who used to be placed in institutions at birth.

They will have trouble understanding.

They will say "But we know that typical kids learn to speak by saying words and having people respond---of course nonspeakers would learn AAC the same way."

They will say "We immerse typically developing babies in speech, because they can access and produce speech . . . of course we should immerse children with language difficulties in robust AAC, because they can access and produce that type of 'speech.'"

They will be grateful for the tools at their disposal, many of which I probably can't imagine.

They will introduce and implement AAC early and often as part of a first-level treatment approach for nonspeakers. And those nonspeakers will have more rapid increases in their development of communicative intent, their ability to share their thoughts, and their rate of speech development.

I believe this.

I believe that the voices we lend to this fight accelerate the process. I believe that every time we speak publicly about presuming competence, giving all the words, using robust systems early and often, and throwing away the ridiculous hierarchy, we reach new people. And while some of these new people will brush us off as idealistic, some will join the movement. Others will think twice the next time they sit down and pull out a small set of picture cards.

There's a line in the musical Hamilton that says, "I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight." I believe that this lines directly up with our place in AAC history.

Presuming competence.

No effing prerequisite skills for robust AAC.

AAC immersion that isn't contingent upon rapid successful participation from the potential AAC user.

I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.

Fight with us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The book formerly known as "Curious George Gets a Talker"

Welcome, friends, to the former home of the book "Curious George Gets a Talker." 

(If you're brand new and don't know what I'm referring to, it was a super neat PowerPoint book that I wrote about Curious George using a communication device, and then I cut up photocopies of our George books with my kids and we put talkers in them. It was pretty neat :) )

If this disappearance is coming as a shock, let me explain.

When I made the book, it was for my kids (my daughter, Maya, who uses a communication device by necessity, and her little brother, Will, who uses a communication device because we are an AAC family). We had fun doing it and they *loved* the finished product. Per usual, when I create resource-y things, I put it up here to share with the intent of supporting other AAC users. AAC folks loved it and all was good. It was translated into multiple languages! I received touching emails with photos and videos of their kids reacting to it! Until . . .

The next day someone asked about copyright. Knowing nothing of copyright stuff, I had no idea whether it was an issue. I wasn't selling anything, I saw oodles of homemade character crafts elsewhere online (ahem, pinterest), and other friends chimed in citing fair use law, so I thought it was probably fine. But, being a fine upstanding non-thief-y type of person, I emailed the Curious George people (actually the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt people) to self-report the usage. I explained the project, sent them the book, and asked whether it was permissible to leave in place or whether it should be removed. (This is also why I didn't repost the link on Facebook or share the translated versions---I thought it was wiser to wait to hear back from HMH.) After a few days I got a reply that my email had been passed to a different department, and I didn't hear anything else until today.

(Side note: I can't help but wonder how many emails they get self-reporting potential copyright infringement. Not many, I would guess. Ha.)

Earlier this evening I received a very polite email from the HMH folks saying that, while they appreciated the effort to provide resources to the disability community, there are "strict editorial standards for creating new stories featuring the character," and they requested that I pull the file down. 

And so . . . 


But wait, there's more.

While HMH requested the removal of the booklet due to the copyright, they were "inspired by [our] story" and as a gesture of appreciation they have offered to make a donation in Maya's name of 100 HMH children's books to a nonprofit of our choosing. (They also are sending us a small gift basket of books for Will and Maya, which is lovely.)

That's pretty cool. Considering that not only did they have no obligation to be charitable, they actually could have been righteously indignant, it's very generous.

So the book isn't here anymore. I'm not really bummed about it, though. It reached some kids (most importantly to me, my own). The books that will be donated will reach some more kids. My kids and I had a blast making it. If only I could draw, we could have made it with other characters to begin with . . . which brings me to the next point:

While the character images in my book belonged to HMH, the story was mine. It was a pretty good story from an AAC perspective: there was modeling, multiple communicative functions, multiple communication partners, multiple communicative environments, etc. Curious George, while beloved and adorable and well-known, is not essential for the story to work. The main character could really be any animal (I'm particular to Parker the poodle, but Sara the squirrel or Harry the hamster or Carl the cat or really anyone could work).

But I can't draw. 

And so if you, dear reader, happen to be an illustrator, or happen to know an illustrator, or just like to draw (simple, emotive, child-friendly) characters in your spare time . . . well, get in touch ( If anyone can make it work, I'd be happy to attach the story to someone new.  

Our kids need more AAC stories.  (And I can't help draw them, but I can happily help with the stories----so if any book folks out there want to run with this, well . . . it's a good idea. And I'm happy to help.)


(Totally unrelated side note: this is the first week of my new semester, and posts have been pretty thin here since I started back in grad school. If you want to keep up with us, our Facebook page is really the place to go!)

Monday, August 1, 2016

21 Days of AAC Challenge: 2016

New, 2016-style Introduction:
We are freshly back from AAC family camp (which I will definitely blog about at some point, but if you'd like to see some snippets from camp you can see them on our FB page: here, here, here, and here). It's that last post that's leaving me hungry to do more, to be a better support for my AAC-using daughter, particularly as she often wants to use her (mostly unintelligible to strangers) speech and reject her device. I'm scared that she's losing her skills (well, because she is---more on that here) and I'm scared of the implications for her future if she doesn't maintain/increase her AAC fluency. 

And so, friends, it's AAC challenge time!

And this year, there's a friendly new (free) printable.  First, check out the details of the AAC modeling challenge below (re-run from last year). At the bottom you'll find the oh-so-easy printable calendar. *THIS CALENDAR IS NOT MANDATORY.* Nothing is mandatory---this is all made-up, remember? But for those who like the self-satisfaction that comes with crossing off another day, or who enjoy the data collection of jotting a (very) few daily notes, this new addition is for you. 

And now, the details: 


If you are a member of an AAC family, you have likely heard that the most important thing that you can do (after providing your child with a robust ready-to-support-language system and presuming competence) is model. Modeling (also known as aided language stimulation, aided language input, and ALgS) is when you use your child's AAC system to communicate, with several variations:

(words spoken via AAC are in bold)

  • Use your child's system to highlight certain words as you also speak: "We are having fun." 
  • Use your child's system to build whole phrases/sentences instead of speaking. "Your turn."
  • Use a separate device with the same language file (this works if you have 2 iPads and your child is using a communication app) as your own AAC device. (This is also called dual device modeling). (Same examples as above, just with your own talker.)
Of course, you could also highlight words without speaking them, or build whole phrases/sentences while speaking them, or use a combination of single and dual device modeling, or probably a bunch of other possible modeling plans that I haven't listed. 

(Is this starting to feel complicated?)

And then there's the question of which words/phrases to model. There's a lot of emphasis on core words and core vocabulary (core words = the words that make up the large majority of a person's vocabulary; including versatile, simple words like eat, push, go, stop, in, up, this, it) . . . but we also know that sometimes the stuff that gets our kids most interested in talking are the fringe words (names of tv characters, favorite toys, words like fart, poop, gross). And then there may be essential words/phrases/topics that we know are important for our child to start incorporating (communication repair phrases like That's not what I said, social interaction phrases like What's your name, questions, words to describe pain/seizures/medical conditions, introduction strategies, etc.)  Not to mention the wealth of questions that immediately arise as soon as you try to model:

For beginners:
  • Wait, which words should I highlight? 
  • Should I only model present tense verbs or should I use all of the tenses?
  • Do I need to pick a set of words and only model those 5-10 words until my child is using them?
  • Should I model one word at a time or more than one? When should I ever model full sentences?
  • What if my child isn't paying attention when I'm trying to model? Should I wait? Make him/her watch? Quit and try again later? Keep going?
For intermediate/advanced:
  • My child usually knows where words are better than I do, am I really adding much by continuing to model?
  • How can I balance between hitting new language targets while also remaining fluid and flexible in conversation (rather than feeling like a lesson)?
  • When should I recast/correct my child's production (eg. using AAC to restate their sentence while correcting verb tense, or adding articles, etc), and when should I ignore the errors?

It can be overwhelming.

Depending on your degree of over-thinking-ness, it can be really overwhelming. (My over-thinking-ness degree is high, for the record).

And yet, undeniably, modeling is essential. 

Modeling provides children with accessible language input (input in a language that they will be able to access and then also use, whereas they may not be able to attempt to use the speech that they are hearing constantly). Children are immersed in speech from birth, but AAC users receive only a tiny fraction of that accessible language modeling in their AAC language. While many families can count on AAC to be modeled during weekly speech therapy sessions, consider these thoughts from Jane Korsten:

The typically developing child will have been exposed to oral language for approximately 4,380 waking hours by the time he begins speaking at about 18 months of age. 
If someone is using a different symbol set and only has exposure to it two times a week, for 20 – 30 minutes each, it will take the alternate symbol user 84 years to have the same experience with his symbols that the typically developing child has with the spoken word in 18 months!!! 
The typically developing child will demonstrate language competency around 9 – 12 years of age having been immersed in and practicing oral language for approximately 36,500 waking hours. For 9 – 12 years that child has been using and receiving corrective feedback while practicing with the spoken word. 
At twice a week, 20 – 30 minutes each time, it will take the alternate symbol user 701 years to have the same experience.

If we are to make any sort of dent in closing that gap, AAC modeling needs to become something that we do at home (and in the grocery store, and while out on a walk, and in the doctor's office, and . . . you get the idea)---for AAC beginners, of course, but even for our intermediate/advanced users. 

Here are some things that are great about modeling:
  • It provides children with an increased amount of accessible language input (as mentioned above)
  • Hands-on modeling time sneakily forces the modelers to become more familiar with the vocabulary placement and to increase their fluency with the system
  • Modeling will undoubtedly lead to programming/opening more words in the system, as you will notice things that you want to say but can't, because words are missing
  • Using AAC will validate your child's system, in a subtle-but-real way that says I think this is such a great way of communicating that I want to use it, too!

Things that are challenging about modeling (aka "reasons that maybe sometimes I don't want to model") and why those are also great:
  • My child wanders away when I am modeling and then the whole thing seems pointless. Keep modeling anyway. Children who use AAC need to be determined to get their point across: AAC is slow, sometimes hard to hear, sometimes awkward or cumbersome. Our kids will have listeners who wander away----they need to see that it's worth sticking it out to communicate your thoughts. You're not just modeling the words, you're modeling what it looks like to use a communication system. You're modeling that you are comfortable using AAC, that you value it and don't quit just because listeners are indifferent. Stick it out. 
  • My child finds the words much faster than I do. I feel awkward searching for so long between each word.  You are not only modeling words, you are modeling what to do when you are looking for a word that you don't know (I guarantee that our kids have words in their heads that they don't attempt to say with their devices simply because the words aren't programmed in or they don't know where to find them).  Use this opportunity to say things like "Huh, I want to say enormous but I don't know where that is . . . do you have enormous in here? . . . let's take a look" while you model how to use the search feature. You can model how to use a synonym if the exact word isn't in there, or how to use a button like "I don't have the word that I want" or "I need a new word." You are modeling how to fight to get your message across, how to not quit because it is hard. (Also, if you ask your child for help finding words they may love being the expert :) )
  • I feel awkward using the device while out-and-about. Of course, I want my child to use his/her system anywhere, but I am a speaking adult, and I feel strange wearing an iPad and using it to talk in line at Starbucks. I get it. I want Maya to feel empowered and proud and awesome when she wears and uses her talker, and yet I sometimes feel sheepish doing the same. I'm not a big fan of drawing extra attention to myself in public, and holding an electronic device and tapping on it with your kids is going to solicit some looks (and maybe comments too, about how we are all addicted to devices now). But we are awesome when we model in public. Maya has shown me, time and again, that she is generally resistant to using the talker in new places (so much to see and do that it's hard to care enough about communicating to slow down and do it). I need to model that it's worth taking the time to communicate everywhere---that we can pause on our walk to comment on something we see, that I can stop to ask a question, that it's ok (more than ok!) to take the time to use the device whenever, wherever.
  • My child sometimes pushes my hands away when I try to use his/her talker. This one, actually, is the one reason that I would back off (temporarily) on the modeling. If you don't have a second device available for modeling and your child is showing this type of possessiveness over his device, I would honor it and simply try again later. I would ask permission ("can I use your talker to say something?") and/or choose a time when he isn't much interested in using it. 

Despite knowing how important modeling is, sometimes I drop the ball. ("Sometimes" has sometimes been for a while, for the record.) Sometimes it's hard to stay motivated. Sometimes life gets in the way, or I forget, or it starts to seem not that important. Sometimes we all need a jumpstart.

So here's my proposal: For the next 21 days, join me in committing to modeling with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Do not worry about whether you are doing it "right", just do it. I will post nightly threads on our Facebook page that provide an example of some type of modeling that I did that day (because sometimes simply seeing what someone else is doing is enough to have you thinking "Oh, that's it? I can do that."). I (strongly) encourage you all to jump in---post to the daily thread, check in, share pictures or stories from your day of modeling. Ask questions. Share ideas/activities.  Just keep going.

21 Days of AAC Challenge Frequently Asked Questions*:
-Why 21 days?
Once upon a time, I learned that it takes 21 days of doing something (like exercising or waking up early) to form a habit. When the idea of this AAC challenge sprang into my head, along with it came the 21 day time frame---perfect for forming the habit of daily modeling, I thought. Then I googled and learned that the whole 21-days-to-form-a-habit thing is an odd, non-scientific myth . . . but I think it's still a great amount of time for a challenge, so I'm sticking with it. 

-How long do I need to model for it to count? 10 minutes? 30?
This is a made up challenge without points or prizes. You earn your "day" of modeling by actively deciding to model and jumping in. Extra imaginary points will be assigned if you model throughout the day. (I think this is the sort of thing where success compels you to do it more---I have found that making myself model actually makes me want to do it more.)

-I'm kind of new to modeling and don't know where to even start--help?
Here are a few great getting started resources:

But remember, the whole point of this is just to get more comfortable with modeling, and to form the modeling habit----it doesn't have to be structured or magical, it just has to happen.

-My kid isn't a beginner anymore---is my modeling really that useful?
Yes. You are modeling how to be an active, determined AAC user in a fast-paced world. You can pick higher-level language targets (using comparative and superlative adjectives, using contractions, increasing the number of questions asked, taking a larger number of conversational turns, starting to use and introduction strategy, modeling sentences with active verbs and then their counterparts with passive verbs, etc etc etc) to model. 

-This is a great idea, but  . . . (we're about to go on vacation//it's the first week of school//we are throwing a family barbecue this weekend//insert other life-gets-in-the-way excuse here) . . . maybe I could start next week instead?
No, you have to start now. 

Ok, actually I am just some lady on the internet and I can't hold you accountable for anything . . . but I think you should start now. Life is busy, and it will always get in the way. Particularly for our AAC users, who have to stop, form an idea, find the words to say the idea (often dealing with motor challenges while doing that) and then communicate it. That's a struggle. It's not fair for us to think "gah, it's too hard to start today" while our kids have to do it everyday. Suck it up, buttercup.

Join me, guys. This is going to be really fun! 

I'll share a few bonus ideas (like, "If you're looking for something to focus on today, try incorporating more adjectives" or something) along the way, in case you're struggling to come up with fun new stuff. This is going to be Facebook based (rather than blog posts) because it's still too painful to type a lot (my arm is on fire right now), and FB allows for it to be more interactive---I want to see your ideas and pictures and stories, too. At the end of the 21 days maybe I'll try to compile it into one giant blog post so that it will be easier to find. 

Happy modeling!

*"frequently asked questions" = "questions that I just made up right now"

Ok, here's the calendar. It's a very simple August calendar. Each day there is are two faces---circle the smiley if you modeled, circle the sad face if you didn't (but seriously, you can do all smileys. It's only 21 days). There is also a spot for "notes"----jot down anything (words added, new things said, highlights, lowlights, etc) or nothing. The printable PDF is here. 

image is a printable calendar for tracking modeling

Join us. Chime in on Facebook. Share. Motivate each other. Collaborate and problem solve together. 

AAC families, unite!

Image is Dave and Maya, sitting on a low grey brick wall. 
Dave is modeling on a device while Maya, who is wearing Mini, is looking on.