AAC Awareness Month October 2022: Promoting Friendships in AAC Intervention

Autumn poppies

Introduction

Today, I share a presentation I made for AAC Awareness Month at the Centre for AAC in South Africa. I discuss ways in which we can deepen our understanding of different types of friendships. As a result, we can promote friendships in AAC intervention as an integrated part of daily activities.

A Challenge in AAC intervention

One of the biggest challenges that AAC interventionists face today relates to the sustainability of our efforts. We work to teach children to recognize and use symbols on communication boards or high-tech devices. However, we often must acknowledge that these interactions remain superficial. Consequently, interactions become routinized and stilted as students practice what they have learned. Because these messages do not really reflect how students feel, these interactions can become stumbling blocks in AAC users’ attempts to make friends.

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Prioritizing Students’ Friendships in Pods and Classrooms

Children playing in fountain

If the Corona virus epidemic has taught us anything, it probably is the value of friends and family in negotiating our way through difficult periods. Talking to friends and catching up on Zoom allow us to share how we feel in our dark moments. Friendships empower us to face reality and to realize that we are still ok and sane!

Even though we can strengthen our existing friendships remotely, it is generally more difficult to develop new friendships online. Existing friendships are what we capitalize on in difficult times.

This Cornavirus time is, therefore, another wake-up call for us to seriously reflect on how to assist students with special needs to develop friendships. I was struck by a recent posting by a mother of a child with special needs. It vividly describes the plight of a boy who does not have friends. She wrote:

I’ve been doing this for 19 years, so I’m used to it. But really, no, not doing okay. I’m so depressed and sad for him. He is lonely and anxious and doesn’t understand why people don’t want to be with him. He’s lovable but they can only take him in doses. His sadness turns to rage, on me mostly. And I stand there with my invisible shield on and I take it. Because no one else can or will take it from him. I’m going to be there for him no matter what. And right now, during this…pandemic, I have to be here for him 24/7. Because he has nothing to do and because he’s so full of anxiety. It’s really hard. 

This mother’s cry for help is not uncommon, and it requires our attention. The posting highlights the boy’s isolation and lack of friendships. It also describes the parent’s desperation within this context. While some parents of typical students could probably identify with this mother, the extent of the challenges are different when you have a child with a significant disability.

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Mental Health Education for All Grades in New York!

Mental health education: grade school classroom

New York State has passed a law, which takes effect July 1, 2018, that will require mental health education in all grades in New York.  John Richter, the director of public policy with the Mental Health Association of New York State, encouraged educators to think of it less as a new class or topic, “but to update the way you think about mental health,” and include it in existing day-to-day classes.  He stated that it can be integrated into existing health class curriculum, and he said there are opportunities in other classes. “In literature, if you’re reading The Scarlet Letter, you’re going to learn an important lesson about stigma. If you’re in biology and you’re talking about brain synapses, you have the opportunity to talk about mental health,” Richter said. [Source] Continue reading “Mental Health Education for All Grades in New York!”