This picture from AAC Coach says so much about the nature of success with communication when using AAC. A few years ago I chatted with a college student who was able to fluidly answer my questions while typing on her iPad. It seemed impossible the story she was sharing was true – that until middle school she had been treated as though she had a significant intellectual disability, denied access to inclusive classrooms, and overheard teachers making comments that her parents “should just institutionalize her”. Yet here was this put together, bright college student who only stuck out because she typed her replies to me instead of speaking them aloud. It would be easy to assume from that conversation that all she needed was typing lessons and an iPad – but it is so much more than that.
As this graphic shows, when you look below the water at the iceberg underneath, success with AAC requires layers and layers of firm foundational support – everything from stakeholders who firmly believe in the child’s potential and ability – to the practice, practice, and practice involved between the language therapy, motor planning practice, and not giving up, despite how difficult it becomes. It is a journey to success.
Inclusion is listed here as one of the fundamental layers required for success. Inclusion (when done well) should provide students access to grade level instruction and expectation. These settings should send the message to the student that we believe he or she can achieve at high levels, that he or she is academically as capable as his or her peers despite the difficulties with communication, and also sets up an expectation that the child will participate in these conversations. When I think of the importance of inclusion I often think about a child I worked with who had two different teachers. Each teacher had a different understanding of the child – one believed the child was incapable, while the other believed he was quite capable. When I questioned the first teacher about her beliefs she shared that she had never asked him grade level questions or provided him with grade level work – so he never had a chance to show what he could do. He never wrote his name for her (although he was capable of doing so) because she had never asked him to.
In some ways, this picture exhausts me, because it reminds me of how much work is to be done to ensure success for all students. And none of those hidden pieces can be completed by one stakeholder – no parent or teacher alone can provide that rich foundation. It takes a strong team with shared beliefs.
We have a lot of work to do for our students – all of them, regardless of their communication, abilities, strengths and needs. Each of our children deserves a strong foundation with a core team that believes in them. Yet we know the work is possible. We have met those adults who make us believe in the easy fairy tale, and cause us to forget the work underneath. We know that we can give that success to others – many others – as long as we build that foundations and supports together.