In my readings for my upcoming comprehensive examinations, one theme that has come up is constructing classroom space for individuals with speech impairments, particularly those who utilize alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) systems (e.g. Buekelman & Mirenda, 2005, Mirenda, 2003, Ashby, 2010). The goal is to allow the student to participate in an inclusive classroom while allowing the student to participate and be included in the classroom as much as possible, preferably allowing the student to have a “competitive” placement meaning that they are dealing with the same content as their non-disabled peers and are being evaluated in a similar manner.
One way to do this would be to incorporate principle 1 of universal design, utilizing multiple models of interpretation (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle1, CAST, 2011). The most relevant sub-parts here involve language usage and cognition. I suspect the part about language usage might have been intended more toward individuals that do not speak English as their first language, but individuals whose speech is limited or who do not speak would certainly benefit from having instruction that does not over-privilege the verbal, something that certainly looms large on the educational scene. In terms of cognition, some individuals may struggle with managing a communication system and “normal” academic work especially since many AAC users are not fast typists (Buekelman & Mirenda, 2005). That means that work needs to be adapted for them.
Thousand, Villa, & Nevin (2007) also discuss the importance of content. The key to content seems to be to design the curriculum in such a way that all the students can learn without dissipating academic content. In my research, I work with high school aged students. In this area onward, it becomes very debatable as to what the appropriate content is. Certainly, one might correctly argue that elementary and middle schools also have this concern. However, high schools and, more particularly, post-secondary schools are credentialing. High schools are particularly difficult to negotiate content wise because high school students are on different tracks. Some may choose to do a “college prep” type track while others may be bound for more vocational pursuits. Certainly, content can be taught in “appropriate” ways, but due to the credentialing / tracking element to secondary schools onwards, the standards of colleges and the professions have to be taken into account as well, some of which are external to the educational system itself. Certainly, I don’t think anyone is making the argument that standards ought to be reduced, but often standards and doing things in a certain way, particularly in professional schools. I first noticed this during a brief stint in law school, and have continued to notice how this gets done throughout my master’s and Ph.D. programs, but arguably if I had been in a more professionalized major, such as business administration, I probably would have noticed it earlier and I’m also sure that there were likely “standards” of what was required that were, while perhaps more flexible, still a “line in the sand” concerning my undergraduate major and even the honors and advanced placement courses I took in high school. Because I passed through these standards, I am where I am today and, to some extent, it’s appropriate that I have competency in certain things. However, it is also a way for certain individuals with certain skills to corner the labor market while excluding new ideas and ways of doing things.
One thing that can be done is chunking (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler). This allows students to do the whole material, but to break it up into little bits at a time.
Cognitive Dissonance (Lidwell, Holden & Butler, 2003, p. 45) is a term that comes up in the literature in my field to describe Facilitated Communication (Mirenda, 2008). What Mirenda means by this is that certain FC users have confounded expectations by learning to type independently and/or learning to speak, which makes it difficult for more “objective” based, usually empirical studies to dispute that they are not doing the typing, even when much of the scientifically based evidence would suggest otherwise.
Control (Lidwell, Holden & Butler, 2003, p. 64) is important in alternative and augmentative communication. Usually, individuals do not really know their machines very well, particularly small children, so they require a lot of help. As they grow more proficient, they can utilize more options and have more individual control.
Design by committee (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2003, p. 75) is important in regards to alternative and augmentative communication users of all ages, particularly those in school, because it allows teachers, various therapists, families, and individuals to work together to fulfill the individual’s needs.
Normal distribution (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2003, p. 166) is arguably something that can help and hurt AAC users. When they speak naturally (assuming they have speech), these individuals cannot perform very well. However, with AAC, most of their communicative abilities can be restored.
Gestures (http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/chapter3_4.cfm) are a major component of speech. Sometimes, it can be helpful to “act something out”, but it has to be accompanied with a cognizant sound. It’s not enough to simply “guess”. What gestures can do is aid in understanding, but that understanding may still be limited.
Ashby, C. (2010). The trouble with normal: The struggle for meaningful access for middle
school students with disability labels. Disability and Society 25 (3). pp. 345-358.
Buekelman, D. & Mirenda, P. (2005). Alternative and Augmentative Communication:
Management of Severe Communication Problems in Children and Adults. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
CAST (2011). UDL Principle 1. Found at
http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle1. Downloaded 27 Jan. 2011.
Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Universal principles of design: 125 ways to
enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions,
and teach through design. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, Inc. (Find five principles that may influence how you implement Principle 1 in your field)
Mirenda, P. (2003). “He’s not really a reader…”: Perspectives on supporting literacy
development in individuals with autism. Topics in Language Disorders, 23, 271-282.
Mirenda, P. (2008). A back door approach to autism and AAC. Alternative and Augmentative
Communication, 24. pp. 219-233.
Rose, D. H., & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for
learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Thousand, J. S., Villa, R. A., & Nevin, A. I. (2007). Differentiating instruction: Collaborative
planning and teaching for universally designed learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.