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  • Writer's pictureDeirdre Azzopardi

Knowing Better

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better"

Maya Angelou

How often as a therapist do you realize that you were so misinformed and wish you had done better?  Well today was one of those days for me. Today I had the pleasure of speaking to warrior mother, Jen Schonger. For those of you who do not know her, she was on Meg Proctor's podcast "Two Sides of the Spectrum" and I was the guest the week prior. (link to Jen's podcast below)  I was blown away by her honest insight regarding her daughter who is using an AAC device for communication. I was so interested in the fact that she began the AAC journey when her daughter was only 20 months old. I have seen many children be given these devices, over the years, but never heard of someone doing it this young. What a gift she gave her daughter to encourage communication in a way that used her strengths, instead of just holding out for her to communicate in the neurotypical way. I just love a mom on a mission, so when I heard that she lived in New Jersey, I knew I had to speak to her.  After our almost two hour conversation (I could of talked to her for 10) I realized I have been very misguided when it comes to AAC.  So many of the children that I see with these devices are prompted constantly to "use their talker."  They rarely spontaneously use it, so it is often not a true tool for communication. What Jen did instead was to actually speak to her daughter with the device. I have never been given that advice in my many years in special education. So she modeled by actually using the device herself to ask questions instead of the typical way where the adult verbally asks a question, or makes a comment, and then says "use your device" to get the answer from the child. Jen instead sent her daughter the message that the AAC device was important, she modeled the behavior she wanted and she communicated with her daughter on her daughter's terms. Jen also shared with me that she has put television scripts onto her daughter's talker because she knows that she loves scripts from shows. When half the therapists I know are discouraging scripting, Jen is actually putting scripts on her daughter's AAC device (wow, just wow). Lastly, Jen doesn't expect that her daughter will always answer her. Many times children don't feel like talking.  Why do children who have an AAC devices have to use it if they don't feel like it? Jen instead will get a sense of what she thinks her daughter wants and may go over to the device and model what she believes her daughter is showing her by her body language. Genius. Jen now actually has two devices so that she can model from her own device. This would be the ideal but if we are unable to afford two devices and are trying to model it is important that we ask permission to touch a child's device so that we promote autonomy. We can also print out the pages and model using them without the use of technology. If you follow my work you know that I am a huge advocate for doing things with kids instead of just for kids. I am not sure how I missed the opportunity for AAC. So now I know better so I will take this time to use AAC with my students. Now, I am on a mission to tell everyone with ears because this could be so life changing for some of our kids. If you are an advocate for social emotional health than helping children to communicate is your responsibility (no we can't just leave it to the SLPs) Jen shared this graphic that just makes so much sense and may help us to understand what is at stake here. 

Please let me know what you think!  Spread the news. Thanks so much Deirdre   Link to Jen's podcast:

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