Hi! My name is LJ Seiff. I am twelve years old and live in northern Virginia. Chris asked me to write a post for his blog about my experiences in school, my experiences using AAC, and my dreams.
IN THE CLASSROOM: MY EXPERIENCES USING AAC
Overall, my experience with my AAC device in school has been good. When I was in preschool my school used a variety of low-tech AAC, such as PECS, before I tried using a high-tech device.
I enrolled in the Communications Program when I was in kindergarten, and it was a great learning experience. It is for students who use a variety of AAC modalities, including both high and low tech. A low student ratio allowed students to get help with where they are at in their AAC learning journey. There were opportunities for more academic support, but there was also the option to go into the regular classroom setting.
The Communications program allowed students who use AAC to interact with peers who also use AAC. It is nice to talk the same way and have peers who understand the frustrations we face using AAC. It was previously a program for students in Kindergarten – 5th grade. Now it serves students in PreK – 2nd. Sadly, my school district is in the process of closing it this year. I wish this type of program was offered in more schools, especially for beginning AAC users to become fluent in their AAC system.
Currently, I have a 1:1 that understands the motor planning/ mapping needed to use my device. He advocates for my needs within the general education classroom, and he pushes me to be as independent as I can. My educational team has created pages with content specific vocabulary, and we have modified icon location/placement to make high frequency words more easily accessible.
However, there have also been some
issues though with using my device in school. Over the years I have struggled to get appropriate and individualized accommodations, both for everyday use and statewide testing. Many administrators responsible for making decisions about accommodations and modifications do not have background knowledge or experience with AAC.
One of the accommodations that I use is dictation to a scribe. My 1:1 writes down everything I say using my AAC as I say it, which means I must be very detailed. I have to tell him step-by-step how to solve math problems so that he can write it out. This takes a lot of time.
Unfortunately, some other accommodations that would be beneficial to me were denied. For example I was told I cannot use “hand under hand”
assistance during my SOLs. I do not have the same stability in my hand that other students have due to my Cerebral Palsy. Allowing me to use someone else’s hand helps me to stabilize my own hand so I don’t make mistakes when I am skip-counting. If I make a mistake, that means the rest of my work will be wrong and my answer won’t be correct.
IN THE CLASSROOM: HOW AAC IS DIFFERENT THAN ENGLISH
All school staff need training on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Teaching staff need additional training on how to teach students who use AAC. I feel like the whole school district does not understand the needs of students who are AAC communicators.
When I started the Communications program I did not know a lot about AAC. I would say “yes” and “no”. During Language Arts I was mostly learning about how to use AAC, so I missed all the foundation skills that were being taught to students in the general education classroom.
“Rose and Meyer (2002) were the first to make the distinction between AT to support access to information and AT to support access to learning. For example, if the student’s goal is to learn to read with comprehension, then providing digitized text that a computer reads to the student is counterproductive; listening to the text bypasses the need to learn to read with comprehension. AT can circumvent challenges imposed by a variety of disabilities; however, access to content without instruction focused on the specific needs of the student is inadequate (Boone & Higgins, 2007).”
-Erickson & Koppenhaver (2020), p. 186
Writing using AAC takes longer than paper and pencil. It takes many movements to get a paragraph done. Just to type the word “movements” it took two hits. To say “I love you mom!” it took 11 hits total (10 + talk) on my Accent1000, but for speaking friends it only takes them four words. 13 seconds on AAC vs. talking in 1 second. Teachers are not giving time for AAC students to answer questions. Give us a heads up or pause time/wait time so that we can type out our response to a question and be able to raise our hand like our peers.
IN THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM: HOW TO SUPPORT STUDENTS USING AAC
First I would say every learning app a school chooses to use should meet every students’ needs. My school district bought some apps this year that are difficult for students’ with vision needs to access their learning.
On Canvas, a Learning Management System, it is hard to see my “to do” list, the text is small and cannot be modified, the messaging app is difficult to use, my AAC device is not compatible, and it is difficult to turn in assignments. Even aspects that teachers could modify, such as the daily schedule, were visually challenging and messy because teachers tried to make it look “pretty”.
Another app, Lexia, which collects data on how well students read, doesn’t allow users to change the font size or background color to meet vision needs.
All our live classroom sessions occurred on Microsoft Teams. The font on Microsoft Teams is small, teachers could customize it to meet students’ vision needs but most chose not to even though it was written in my IEP. Breakout rooms were also difficult to use. It was hard to see peers and the font used in chat is small and couldn’t be changed.
Some apps that I have found helpful during e-learning include: Read & Write, Dark Reader, Learning Ally, Notability, IXL, and Adobe PDF.
|Read & Write||a browser extension, is a great tool that can be used to read websites aloud.|
|Dark Reader||a browser extension, enables users to have a dark background on a variety.|
|Learning Ally||an app that reads books, such as grade level textbooks or those you would find in a library, aloud.|
|Notability||an app for Ipads, can be used to take notes in class using a dark background and a variety of text sizes/styles/colors.|
|IXL||is an app and website that focuses on fun math skill practice.|
|Adobe PDF||a great tool to change a PDF for better visual access (change background, enlarge the document), useful for study guides and reading passages|
One strategy that I have found helpful is to sync my AAC (Accent1000 by PRC) to my computer using bluetooth. It allows me to use tools built into my device for navigating my laptop. For example, I have preset buttons that allow me to quickly go to frequently used websites, such as YouTube or Canvas.
IN THE CLASSROOM: SCHOOL EXPERIENCES
Throughout the years I have been able to be a member of different school-wide activities. In first grade I was on the Morning News, which was a live video streamed to all the classrooms within my school. I had a segment called Funny Fridays where I told a joke using my Accent1000.
When I was in the fourth grade I ran for classroom representative for Student Council Association (SCA). In the fifth grade I worked to start the Inclusion Committee within the SCA. The Inclusion Committee ran a school wide month focused on diversity and inclusion. Classes read books and completed activities that prompted changes within the school.
IN THE COMMUNITY
Something that is frustrating is getting people to understand my AAC is a tool, not a toy. AAC should be known as someone’s voice. There needs to be more awareness, both in schools and the community, about what AAC is. Oftentimes strangers will ask the adult with me a question about me and they don’t know that I can speak for myself.
I feel like people don’t ask me before they touch it if they can try/ touch my device. It shows a lack of respect because they wouldn’t like it if I used their things without permission. This is my voice and when they don’t ask I can’t say no, and that makes me feel like I’m not heard. That makes me feel helpless.
MY DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE
My dream job is to be a head chef at a restaurant in Italy because I love pasta! When I was little I had a feeding tube, so one of the reasons food is important to me is because I know how it feels to not be able to taste something. Food is important to my family because dinner is a nice time to bond and talk about our day. We all like to cook together or hang out in the kitchen while dinner is being prepared. My mom and dad have taught me a lot about cooking. They met in a cooking class during college – my dad was a student and my mom was a TA. Food also plays an important role in my Jewish culture.
One of my chef role models is Marcus Samuelsson because he showcases his cultures in the food he cooks. Giada De Laurentiis is another
role model of mine because I like Italian food and I got to meet her in person. Chef José Andrés is another chef I look up to because he works so that no one is hungry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lewis Seiff, also known as LJ, is a twelve year-old boy who lives in northern Virginia. He has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). LJ uses Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and sign language to interact with people. LJ has used an AAC device for the last 10 years. He is a rising sixth-grader in a general education classroom at his local public school.
LJ loves to play baseball, basketball, and soccer. He also enjoys skiing with his family and baking cookies.
LJ is a part of ImpAACT Voices, a non-profit organization that works to bring people together once a month who use AAC.
Erickson, K. & Koppenhaver, D. (2020). Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.