ATIA Conference 2018

Have you ever had dreams of walking around in a land filled with switches, mounts, AAC apps and devices, and knowledgeable vendors?

Just me? Oh. That’s embarrassing.

Well, my inner AAC nerd lived out her fantasy at the ATIA convention in Orlando, FL last week.


ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) has a yearly convention that extends past our field of Speech Pathology. I was blown away by the lectures, resources, and exhibits. You think you know assistive technology…and then you realize that your knowledge is just the tip of this wonderfully diversified iceberg.

You can find handouts from the lectures here.

I registered for a one-day pass and spent Thursday, February 1st shuffling between lectures and having some “fan girl” moments (yes, I waved down Karen Erickson, and no, she didn’t have a clue who I was).

I scored some fantastic goodies at the exhibit hall, including core boards from CoughDrop, Saltillo, Proloquo2Go, and LAMP Words for Life.


I absolutely loved this calendar from Saltillo, which has activities and core words for each month!


It was so much fun to network and meet with AAC Vendors and other professionals who I've been in communication with for close to a year (but never met in person)! That's the thing about this AAC community... we are truly there to support, encourage, and help each other out!

Of course I had to make a stop at Carole Zangari and Jennifer O'Brien's poster presentation: "Supporting Improved Literacy Instruction for Individuals with Significant Disabilities". I have been blessed and honored to work with these two knowledgeable and encouraging professionals! Their presentation delves into a project that used supportive strategies in different stages of face-to-face instruction to increase the quality of teaching literacy skills to individuals with significant disabilities. 

Pati King-DeBaun's session, "Supportive Reading Strategies for Young Children with Significant Language Impairments" was so informative and answered many of my nagging questions about supporting kiddos in this population. Check out King-DeBaun's resource "My Own Books 2 Go" here. I think this is a resource that many of us have been looking for. It has a plethora of books that are adapted for use online, on iPads, and in printable formats.

Whether you're new to the world of AAC or you're a seasoned veteran, there is SO much to learn at the ATIA conference. I highly recommend checking out next year's convention in Orlando, FL, January 30 – February 2, 2019.

Until next time!


"Make it Work" Monday

Oh, Monday... for some odd reason, coffee has zero effect on me today. Strange.

This week's "Make it Work" Monday was made possible by a little friend who decided that he was having a "been there, done that" day with my materials closet. This was until he spotted the still-plastic-wrapped box of  "Wash My Underpants" (a game found in the endless Narnia-like 'fun finds' section of Target). 


There are so many different uses for this material! Besides playing the game in it's traditional sense, you can match pairs of underwear, identify and label concepts like "same vs different", "colors", practice quantitative concepts (such as "more"/"most"), label object function, follow simple and complex commands, practice those core words ("put in", "take out", "clean", "dirty"), use descriptors, take turns...the list goes on and on and on!

...AND he had fun. #winning

Until next time :)



Flashback Friday - January 19, 2018

This week's Flashback Friday is dedicated to an amazing family who has embraced AAC with dedication and grace! It warms my heart to see all of the hard work that they have put into creating an AAC-rich environment at home and on-the-go! 


Posted in the child's room is a simple visual of some AAC "Dos and Don'ts". The family also has text and symbol-based forms of the "Communication Bill of Rights" 


And yes - mom has even created a core word list of the week for the entire year! WAY TO GO! She has found it helpful to have a small chalkboard in her child's playroom with the core words of both the current and previous weeks. This way, any communication partner is aware of the target words as soon as they walk through the door. This is a great way to keep everyone on the same page!


Yes, a word wall!!! This is so phenomenal. Mom has been keeping literacy in mind with this beautiful word wall in her child's bedroom. Each week, the target core words are added to his word wall under the appropriate beginning sound. 

Hopefully this gives some good ideas of what can be used at home to encourage modeling and use of the AAC device. If you've found some fun ideas for around the home, send it our way!

Let's Talk AAC...

As an SLP with an interest in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), I have seen the joys and the challenges faced by my clients and their families. Behind each triumph, there were moments of fear. The path to AAC is long, winding, and messy. It's a learning process for all parties involved...clients, families, caregivers, teachers, friends, and therapists! But at the end of the day, functional communication is the goal...and it CAN be achieved.

The biggest barriers in my opinion...misconceptions and lack of information on the topic.

Are some families afraid of these devices? Yes.

Are they worried that using a device will stop the development of natural speech? Yes.

Do they believe their child will be teased or bullied because of the device? Yes.

Do they think it's going to be "too difficult" for their child to understand and operate the device? Yes.

One of the most crucial parts of AAC intervention is client and family education. As clinicians, we are given the tools and the evidence base to reach out to our families, provide the most current research and education, and allay their fears.

These parents are superheroes. They know their children better than we ever will. They know their quirks, they comfort them in their sadness, they celebrate them when they succeed, and they know the face their child makes when all they want is their polka dot Peppa Pig blanket. I watch these parents on a daily basis and hope that one day I can do at least a fraction of what they do for their kids. 

And that's what we have to remember...these parents are doing their very best. If they had the extra SLP compartment in their parenting toolbox, they would be able to see how much AAC can open the world up for a child. 

This is where we come in.

I try not to bombard my parents all at once with research and handouts and websites and blogs. I like to take a baby step approach. Parents need to be eased into the idea of AAC.

The first step? Dispelling the myths. 

Research shows that AAC can actually promote the development of speech and language. It is by no means a "last resort" during intervention- I like to incorporate it with so many of my kiddos to help "bridge the gap" and provide a means of functional communication until their language skills grow and blossom. 

There are no cognitive prerequisites to AAC. The exact connection between cognition and language skills hasn't truly been defined yet, therefore, it is so important to presume AAC user competence. Who are we to say someone can and cannot do something? How are we going to discover their strengths and skills if we already have a preconceived "set level" for our kiddos?  We want our kids to develop their own identity and share their opinions, dislikes, and fears. I have had some parents tell me, "I am afraid that if we give [my child] a brand new AAC system, he will act out and his behaviors will escalate because he won't know how to use it." I recently had a kiddo whose mom had these fears (and rightfully so- change is HARD!). During the third session of introducing his new device (a NovaChat 10), the battery ran out on his iPad. I asked him if he would like me to leave the new device at his desk for him to use instead of his iPad...he nodded his head "yes". As I walked away, I heard the all-too-familiar sound of an SGD say, "thank you". Cue the waterworks. I can confidently say that this kiddo has made leaps and bounds of progress with his new NovaChat, and I could not be more proud.

Thankfully, with AAC being displayed in a more public fashion (ABC's "Speechless" and iPad commercials), the "taboo" of using a device has been stifled. The use of technology is so universal and the new generation of kiddos has taken charge of leading us in this era. While bullying is on the rise, so is exposure to new ideas such as AAC. 

Parents, have no fear. You have the full support of the SLP community in your corner. Change takes time, but will have lasting effects on your child's communication :)



Emerson, A., & Dearden, J. (2013). The effect of using ‘full’ language when working with a child with autism: Adoptingthe ‘least dangerous assumption. Child Language Teaching & Therapy29(2), 233-244. doi: 10.1177/0265659012463370

Kasari, C, et al. (2014). Communication interventions for minimally verbal children with autism: a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(6), 635-646.

Romski, M. & and Sevcik, R.A. (2005). Augmentative communication and early intervention: myths and realities. Infants & Young Children, 18(3), 174-185.