After all, the stakes are enormous.
Communication is fundamental to the very core of who we are.
Sometimes this basic concept gets buried under all the data collection that is mandated from speech therapists. And sometimes families forget that communication is more than just simplifying life for the caregiver.
An AAC evaluation is a subset of a larger Assistive Technology (AT) evaluation. Because communication is such a critical component impacting every aspect of life and learning, AAC evaluations often become an entity all their own. The rest of the child’s assistive technology needs cannot be ignored, but AAC decisions are so huge, and often so costly, that they are given special separate emphasis.
AAC evaluations need to look at the whole child, not just the tools of expression. Notice I said “tools,” plural, with an S. Notice I also did not say “only a high-tech device.”
There is a trend right now to assume that a single high-tech tool fits all. Don’t get me wrong; this iTool is great and may be able to benefit many, many kids...but that does not mean it is a great tool for every kid.
Families, just because a sleek, new, high-tech iDevice is “cool” does not make it the right fit for every child.
Schools, just because this iDevice is relatively inexpensive does not mean that is the right device for every child either.
Just because a school is comfortable with a specific method (PECS or PODD or name-your-favorite) or device (one brand, one language access software) does not make it the right fit for every child.
An AAC evaluation determines the needs of a specific child in the specific environments where he interacts and, from that, matches him with the tool(s) that best meet(s) those needs. Well, that is the method of an AAC evaluation done correctly.
AACTechConnect hosts a list of outstanding resources for AAC evaluations available on the Web. I want to highlight three free resources that are essentials for families. They are also essentials for speech therapists and AT teams...lest we forget the fundamentals of our service.
1. The SETTframework drives home the concept that we look first at the whole Student and their Environment as we consider the Tools that enable them to meet the Tasks expected of them. The rationale for the SETT framework and SETT forms are available through this page. The SETT framework directly addresses some of the problems I mentioned earlier about jumping to conclusions about the benefit of a one-size-fits-all tool.
2. Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative’s Assessing Student Needs for AssistiveTechnology was updated in 2009. At 525 pages, you may not want to read the entire document, although it is excellent! Two outstanding and relevant chapters, both packed with rationale and many useful forms, are Chapter 1 (Assistive Technology Assessment) and Chapter 3 (Assistive Technology for Communication). This is a fantastic resource you don't want to miss!
3. The University ofWashington's site is different from the others in that it doesn’t offer forms or checklists. What it offers is a good discussion on the different levels of communication and ways to help children and adults succeed at each level and progress to the next. It also provides an excellent “crash course” in the basic features of AAC devices that need to be considered. This helps clarify some of the technical jargon in the forms you may find elsewhere.
If you have an AT or AAC evaluation in your near future, take a look at all three resources.
Consider filling out some of these forms yourself based on your observations of your child interacting at home. Share your observations with the school team.
Your home is an environment where your child must be able to interact. Your observations of the needs she has there and how a trial device meets those needs should be considered in an AAC evaluation.
The better we understand the whole child, the better we will be able to match the tools to meet her communication needs. May every child have a way to express him or herself.