It was my freshman year at Hope College and I was in psychology class. I have met the professor before classes started, but when he asked the first question of the class, he was surprised my foot shot up into the air. He immediately called on me. He waited for me to program my answer but was amazed that I was willing to put myself out there right away on the first question. He expected a student with a communication disability to be shy. He expected me to be not willing to engage the class because I had a communication device. However, I was ready to engage, and I was ready to want to be a part of the class.
I have been using AAC communication for 41 years. It was a real blessing to me because my AAC devices gave me access to language for the first time in my life. I was six at the time and everybody was wondering if my language was intact. How could anybody tell my language was intact until I was able to access language?
This is where in the 70s and 80s AAC was all about language development. I am so thankful for that because I was given the Handivoice 110, which was way ahead of it’s time. It had every day language on it, so I was finally able to express what was in my head. I could finally tell my older brothers and sisters to leave me alone. My social skills became more important to me because now I had language to communicate with the other kids in my class and neighborhood. This helped me develop language quicker, which excelled my education. It was very soon after I received my device that my special education teacher decided I needed to be mainstreamed. This is what the power of language can do.
It was in the 90s AAC communication became about the technology and not about language development. It has continued that course today as we see more apps being developed and iPads being handed out by schools left and right. This pattern has limited the development of competent AAC communicators because they aren’t developing language. They are trying to figure out how to use the app or whatever just to figure out how to get what they need or what they want out of the devices. When this happens it is very difficult to evaluate their language skills. This leads lower expectations.
AAC communication needs to get back to developing language. I believe we aren’t going to see improvements in the competency of symbol speaker until language is the main focus again. A person can’t develop self-advocacy skills without language. This is why developing language is so important. This is why social hangouts is so important. These go hand in hand!
To accomplish their goals living an independent life a person needs language. Without language, nothing can be accomplished!