Abundance in a time of the Corona Virus: Is “more” better?

A good friend of mine recently invited me to join in an online course focused on understanding the concept of abundance and what it means in our lives. At first, I thought I have too many other things that needed my attention, but then I thought: What better time could there be than now?

The Cambridge dictionary defines abundance as a situation in which there is more than enough of something.  The opposite of abundance is scarcity, a concept that parents and teachers are most aware off. This awareness is prominent in our attempts to get young children to understand the concept  “more” to allow us to understand when they  want more food, wants to watch more TV or play for a longer time.

The concept is, however,  also frequently used in the context of abundant living, which relates to the meaningfulness of life. Abundance here does not only refer to the quantity or how much we have, but the meaning of  what we have in our lives.

It highlights the meaning we attach to what we have – and how this manifests in our lives by for example, observing a child smile, an act of kindness, appreciating a nice view, a flower etc.

Like so many other people around the world, I too am at home after the schools have closed to try and prevent the spread of Covit-19.  Being socially isolated, even though difficult,  is one of the most effective ways of slowing the spread of the infection. We have all heard that, read that, but still – it is really challenging. Having children at home all day and not being able to follow the typical daily routines in the household, require innovative planning  to try and keep harmony and peace in the home.

As governments urge citizens to adhere to these restrictions, I am touched, however,  by just how many people have responded to this call by diligently staying away from public places and limiting interactions with others. One can argue that they are protecting themselves, but this action also protects others.

This realization made me think about how we view the link between self and other and the importance of acknowledging how our own actions form part of a bigger collective whole. We might not always be clear of our own intentions, but the fabric of our community rest upon the principle “for the bigger good of all”.  This principle of  “for the bigger good” made me reflect on a recent interview  I watched featuring Elly Frankl, the widow of Viktor Fankl. For those who don’t know, Viktor Fankl was a psychiatrist  and founder of the logotherapy method which was based on the principle of “the will to meaning”. He is also well- known for his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” which is an account of his perceptions of life within the concentration camps. The focus of his work was the exploration of how people can attach new meaning to their existence in the concentration camps.

In this video, Elly Frank talked about their marriage and her experiences with Viktor Fankl. She talked about how he was child-like in his ability to perceive and appreciate the world around him. She expresses her surprise in the fact that such a great and intelligent man, Viktor Fankl,  would have chosen her, an uneducated woman from a very poor background, to spend his life with. And yet, they were happily married for over 52 years. She elaborates on the fullness of her life and how easy this fullness makes it to accept her approaching death.

Clearly, the concentration camps during The Holocaust was an extreme example of deprivation. However, as we are socially isolating, I can’t help wondering if there is a message in this interview for us. Perhaps this is a period of reflection that can indeed create a search for new meaning in our personal and communal life.

What do you think?

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Personal Tribute to a Great Mentor

Landscape with blind Orion seeking the sun by Nicolas Poussin

We recently lost one of the big research giants in the field of augmentative and alternative communication: Lyle L. Lloyd. He died at the age of 86 and was a professor in Special Education and Speech and Language Pathology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, for 34 years.

Lyle Lloyd at work
Llyle Lloyd at work

Continue reading “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Personal Tribute to a Great Mentor”

Typing with Hand-over-hand Support: Is This Really Communication?

Letter board

I recently read the article “After years with no way to communicate, Newburgh teen finds her voice.” Like so many other similar stories, this heartwarming narrative gives an account of how a young women is using supported typing to “communicate.” The mother describes how this strategy has helped her teenage daughter to communicate and find her “voice.” Her daughter points to letters on a letter board while another person (the facilitator) supports the daughter’s wrist during the process of typing.

Although it is good to read positive stories like this, it is important that we alert parents and professionals to the pitfalls involved in describing “supported or assisted typing” as a communication strategy.

Continue reading “Typing with Hand-over-hand Support: Is This Really Communication?”

Augmented Input and Meaning-making

Child with iPad

Recently during a professional development session in the schools, we were observing a video of a teaching aide using augmented input by pointing on a student’s device. As we engaged in discussion, participants expressed some confusion about the assumptions underlying augmented input as seen in the video and questioned its role in promoting the student’s expressive ability using the device.

The video showed a group of children listening to a teacher telling a story. The teaching aide was pointing to some core vocabulary on the student’s device (reinforcing core concepts used by the teacher) while the teacher was narrating a story. The purpose of the augmented input by the teaching aide was presumably to enhance the student’s understanding of the narrative.

Participants’ confusion in observing this video related to the different ways in which the device was used: How is the teaching aide using augmented input on the child’s device assisting the student in understanding his role in expressing him/herself? Providing input on the child’s device by repeating concepts used by the teacher can be confusing if the child needs to learn to use his/her device for self-expression. This dilemma is not new to AAC intervention, and different solutions have been proposed over the years. Two of these solutions are discussed below. Continue reading “Augmented Input and Meaning-making”

Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?

Two people together at sunset

I recently went back to South Africa to see my mom, who is 88. She is in a nursing facility with 24-hour care, unable to walk, and at times quite confused. During the past year she had a couple of ischemic attacks, which rendered her unable to speak for certain periods of time. Recently, however, she has regained some speech, although verbal expression remains difficult. In spite of all these factors, I looked forward to our visit.

The author with her mom and her brother
The author with her mom and her brother

I talk to my mom on the phone from New York on a daily basis. Even though interactions are difficult, we are able to maintain interaction for sometimes shorter and sometimes longer periods of time. My visits with her are less focused on content and more on celebrating the joy of being together.

When in Johannesburg, I visit her at the facility twice a day for about an hour each in the morning and afternoon, depending on how my mom and I seem to be doing at the time and on a specific day. Continue reading “Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?”

Spontaneous Second Language Interactions: What Can We Learn for AAC Intervention?

Two Cousins

In a recent visit to South Africa I had the privilege to be a fly on the wall in observing an interaction between two young people: a little girl who is 9 years old (Afrikaans-speaking, but also fluent in English) and a young adult in her early 30s (English-speaking, but also competent in Afrikaans, although she hasn’t spoken it for some time). These two cousins had not seen each other in a couple of years and were very happy to be reacquainted. A recording was made of their interaction (embedded below). Continue reading “Spontaneous Second Language Interactions: What Can We Learn for AAC Intervention?”

How Do We Promote Engagement in Interactions with Students Who Use AAC?

I have often been surprised to discover how therapists and teachers (myself included!) become so wrapped up in daily toil and activities that we are exhausted by 10:00 in the morning. Although we often admit this is not a state of mind we necessarily are content with, changing how we do things can be really difficult. Being busy makes us feel like we are productive and engaged professionals—but are we really? How is this “being busy” really benefiting our interaction with our students? This question is even more relevant when it comes to how we support students who use AAC to become engaged with others in interaction. Continue reading “How Do We Promote Engagement in Interactions with Students Who Use AAC?”

Are We Missing the Boat in AAC Intervention?

Ferry boat leaving shore

Over the past 30 years of working in this field, I have often had sleepless nights when meeting a student in elementary, middle, or high school who has no or very limited means to communicate in spite of having access to a device or iPad with a communication app. I keep asking myself how it is possible that a student can reach middle or even high school without the ability to express themselves when we have trained teachers and therapists to provide intervention and support? Despite these resources, it still seems rather easy for students with severe communication problems to fall through the cracks.

Although the reasons for these dilemmas are complex, looking at the way in which we formulate IEP goals can be illuminating. IEP goals are often written to reflect outcomes that show the student has learned or gained (that is, variables that are easy to measure, for example, how frequently students respond correctly to certain stimuli or use language structures correctly within context), without due consideration of how what they have learned impact on their daily interactions. Continue reading “Are We Missing the Boat in AAC Intervention?”

Repeat Questions from Students
with Special Needs in the Classroom:
What to Do?

Children raising hands in classroom

A teacher recently shared that she has a student in her class who keeps repeating the same question even after she has responded to it. The student will ask the teacher, “When will we get our tests back?” To which the teacher will reply, “I will give them back tomorrow, as I have not finished making all the corrections yet.” However, 10 minutes later, the student will proceed to ask the same question.

This reminded me of a similar scenario with a student I know of who used an AAC device. This student also repeated the same question, even though the teacher had responded to the question. The student would activate his device to ask, “When do we go to the library?” To which the teacher would respond by saying, “We will go to the library after break.” However, within 10 minutes of the first question, the student proceeded to repeat the same question. Continue reading “Repeat Questions from Students
with Special Needs in the Classroom:
What to Do?”

Listening, Communication Intent, and Rabbits

Rabbit in a field of grass

What Can We Learn from Our Leporine Neighbors?

I have been watching the rabbits in our garden in the early morning hours as they nibble at the grass and momentarily stop to listen, before continuing with their nibbling. This process of nibbling, abrupt stopping and listening, nibbling and stopping and listening fascinates me. It is almost as if the rabbits realize that while they are busy nibbling grass, they can’t listen (or become aware of potential threats), hence they have to stop, albeit momentarily, to listen.

While the idea of stopping in the midst of daily activity is not new, it made me think about our communication intervention practices. I have been trained (and have also trained others for a long time) to understand that communication is an intentional, goal-oriented process of exchanging messages to achieve specific outcomes. The closer the outcomes resemble the initial intent, the more successful we deem the communication to be. But is communication with others really purposeful in that way? Is the process of developing meaning with others really that predictable? Continue reading “Listening, Communication Intent, and Rabbits”