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This paper will address various forms of low tech supports that can be used for students who are nonverbal. Low tech supports can be defined as “simple, unsophisticated technology, often handmade, that do not involve the use of electronics.” While there are common misconceptions that nonverbal students are entirely mute or autistic, there are a variety of different students who fall under the category of nonverbal. This paper will expand on the various types of students who are classified as nonverbal and the different types of interventions used for these students.
The paper will then explain, in depth, the types of low tech supports that can be used as interventions to help these children function and work up to their highest potential. This topic was chosen to delve deeper into the different types of low tech supports that can help nonverbal students and the pros and cons of each.
This topic is related to us through our passion and commitment to educating all students in our current classrooms and eventually working in classrooms for students with disabilities.
As educators, we have and will continue to come across students with many different types of disabilities. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on as many tools as possible that we can use to help benefit our students. One of us had the experience this past school year of working with a child with selective mutism. Although it was difficult in the beginning of the year to find ways to accommodate this child, doing research has provided us with a multitude of suggested interventions to help this child communicate.
This project has made use of the knowledge gained from this course because it gave our group an opportunity to further research one specific type of assistive technology that we felt a connection to. This course has introduced us to a plethora of assistive technology supports that can be used to help us educate all of our students. Through hands-on activities during the course as well as these research projects we are able to learn much more information about individual types of supports and how they can benefit children with a specific type of disability.
Ultimately, our goals for this paper are to provide a comprehensive overview of low tech supports that can benefit students who are nonverbal. First, we will discuss information on students who are nonverbal including, the different types of students who can be considered nonverbal, the settings in which they are often placed in schools, and common interventions for these students. Next, we will review assistive technology, including a definition and different types. Lastly, we will elaborate on the low tech supports for students who are nonverbal and the pros and cons of each one.
It is often that the term ‘nonverbal’ is misunderstood and therefore becomes misleading to those working with students who are nonverbal. This is due to the fact that many students with this designation are able to make sounds or even speak but need extra support to effectively and accurately communicate. Often students who are nonverbal can repeat words or phrases but have difficulty expressing something they want or need. Students with expressive communication difficulties are referred to as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users. AAC users are those who express themselves using other communications forms other than speech.
AAC user students are typically placed within an Integrated Co-Teaching Classroom (ICT) or a classroom for those with special needs such a self-contained classroom or a 12 to 1 to 1. This is due to the various needs and supports that nonverbal students may have depending on their classification and/or what their IEP states. Students who are nonverbal, both who are in a general education classrooms and those who are not, are given a multitude of interventions to support their communication needs. Many children create or find effective ways to communicate nonverbally within the classroom. Nonverbal communications, such as hand gestures and eye contact, are building blocks to producing language. As educators, it is important to encourage and support the student’s development of language.
Teachers should also model behaviors and hand gestures that are dramatic and easy for the students to copy. Nonverbal students may also engage in Functional Communication trainings that promote the child to use more socially appropriate communication. This type of intervention may include the use of AAC, hand gestures, picture symbols, or cards with printed words. Students who are nonverbal also communicate using a plethora of communication tools that can be low, mid, and high technologies. These tools help students express their needs and wants in an effective manner. There are many different types of assistive devices available to help those who struggle to communicate, both who are capable of talking and those who are not. Assistive devices are used to take the place of speech and are meant to be the foundation for communication as well.
Assistive technology can be defined as any piece of equipment that is used to enhance the function of students with disabilities. There are three different kinds of assistive technology that can be used. Low tech supports, as previously mentioned, are supports that do not use any form of electronics. An example of a low tech support might be color coding. Mid tech supports are supports that can be battery operated, meaning that they have a basic level of electronic capacity. An example might be a talking calculator. Lastly, there are high tech supports. High tech supports are much more intricate, as they are supports that need to be plugged into an outlet to use. Some examples include computer programs, or communication boards.
As previously mentioned, students who are nonverbal can make sounds, speak few words, or not speak at all. There are many different kinds of assistive technologies that students who are nonverbal can use. Low tech supports are great to use in a classroom because they can be handmade, and tend to be inexpensive. Some examples of low tech supports for students who are nonverbal might include sign language, picture cards, and visual boards. If the school district has some money in their budget, they may be able to purchase some mid tech supports for students who are non verbal. Some examples of mid tech supports might include simple communication boards, which may be able to hold 20-45 verbal messages for the student to use. Lastly, there are a wide range of high tech supports for students who are nonverbal. These kinds of supports may include speech generating devices (SGD), or voice output communication aids (VOCAs), which allow students the ability to communicate with others.
Assistive technology is a great way to further support students who are nonverbal. These different supports are necessary to allow students to feel involved in the classroom community, as well as create friendships with others. As previously mentioned, low tech supports are very inexpensive, and can also be easily transferred to be used at home.
There are many different types of supports that can be used for students who are nonverbal. In this paragraph we will outline the types of low tech supports that can be used. One type of low tech support that can be used for students who are nonverbal is do-it-yourself communication boards. These boards are simply, pictures and words organized on pieces of paper that are then laminated and strung together using a metal ring. To make the board more functional individual squares containing pictures and words can be laminated separately from the base paper and then attached using velcro. By using metal rings, fringe boards can be added or removed depending on the location or event that the child is attending. A pro of this type of support, especially used with the velcro is that the core boards can be changed as the child matures.
For example, when the child is young the word “toy” or “blanket” might be on their core board. However, as the child matures this can easily be removed and replaced with, “book” or “iPad”. Another pro is that by removing and adding fringe boards to and from the ring, the child would not have to carry around a large amount of boards but rather just ones that are relevant to that day. Another pro is that this do-it-yourself board can easily be transported to and from different places without having to worry about it getting dirty, spilled on, or not being able to see it do to glare from the sun. This type of low tech support can also be very beneficial for a child that becomes easily overwhelmed or distracted when given a high tech device, because this offers no other option besides using it to communicate. A con of this type of board is that it is time consuming to make at first, because it can take a while to continue adding the options of words that best suit the child. Another con is that communication with this support could take longer because it requires the other person to watch the child touch each picture as opposed to high tech devices which can string together a sentence and say it for the child.
Another kind of low tech support that is used for students who are nonverbal is sign language. Sign language is a “system of communication using visual gestures and signs” as a way to communicate. Sign language is a non-verbal communication tool that allows for the child to interact with other individuals as well as serves to express what he or she might need or want. This kind of communication can be taught at a young age and be implemented throughout their life. Sign Language allows for the student to be able to incorporate their personality into their communication. The student is able to use facial expressions as well as choice of wording when using Sign Language.
Students are able to communicate a full sentence rather than a word or two at a time. This means that a student will be able to support and hold a conversation with another individual. Although Sign Language is an effective way to communicate, it does take a while to learn in order to become fluent in conversation. When learning to sign, the child must first learn what each sign means and the proper way to incorporate multiple words to form a sentence often changing the original sign. Once a child learns how to sign, another difficulty might be for a student to find another person who knows sign language. This may lead to a child feeling discouraged and frustrated due to this being the only way they learned how to communicate.
Another type of low tech support that can be used for nonverbal students to communicate is the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS. Although this form of low tech support is similar to handmade picture boards this system is different because it uses individual cards which allows students to string together the words to form sentences and phrases.
This support is a “modified applied behavior analysis program designed for early nonverbal symbolic communication training”. This program is designed with several phases of training which include the child, their family members or guardian and teachers, and a program facilitatory who instructs them how to use the program. As mentioned earlier this program is designed to string together words to form phrases and sentences, similar to how verbal communication occurs. This support can be beneficial for students who are trying to communicate in school because the child could form the whole thought and the bring the string of words over to the teacher.
This support does not require the other person to watch the child point to each card. Another pro of this type of support is that it is inexpensive and can also be created yourself. Another pro is that this support is backed by evidence based research. PECS is one of the identified evidence-based practices in the National Professional Development Center’s report. One disadvantage of using this as a main source of communication is that it is not efficient because it requires the student or child to carry around a large amount of individual cards wherever he or she goes. Because this system is based on individual cards, a child could lose or spill the cards more easily than board which are easier to keep together.
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