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Tools of conversation

There are many ways to have a conversation; Lord Roberts School students learned about the different ways their Inclusive Education classmates converse during a special Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Day.

The Jan. 23 event had students from every classroom visiting a series of stations in the Lord Roberts library. Students had the opportunity to sample American Sign Language, as well as various communications technology used by their fellow students. Lord Roberts Educational Assistants and Inclusive Education students helped to run the stations.

The day was organized by WSD Speech Language Pathologists Ashley Rach and Vanessa Pettersen, who also held a similar event at Montrose School earlier this month.

"The intent is to spread awareness about the different communication styles our students have," Ms. Pettersen said.

Ms. Pettersen and Ms. Rach visited classrooms prior to the event to do some pre-teaching with students.

"We talked about the different devices students use, like symbols, iPads and Big Macs (which are speech generating devices), ASL, gesturingā€¦so the kids are aware that people can communicate in different ways, and it's not always with our voice," Ms. Pettersen said.

Using apps such as Proloquo2Go on an iPad, students with speech difficulties can tap symbols and generate a digital voice.

"These apps use a core vocabulary and have a template of how the words are organized on-screen," Ms. Pettersen said. "The templates can be programmed and customized to students' needs. They can even have pictures of their family and friends. Students can participate more fully in the classroom because they have so many more options in terms of what they can say."

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The advent of tablet technology has made assistive devices more readily available for students.

"Tablets are much more affordable and portable than assistive devices were in the past," Ms. Pettersen said.

Another station had students pointing to pictures on a core vocabulary board to request food items to make their own snacks. At Lord Roberts, every classroom has a core vocabulary board.

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"Students can see how language is organized and can help communicate with their peers who use core vocabulary boards," Ms. Pettersen said.

Ms. Rach and Ms. Pettersen said as all students become more familiar with the different methods of communication, the inclusive environment will be even more enhanced.

"The event was a great success at Montrose. I've since seen students in the hallways and on the playground, approaching students with devices and feeling more confident to initiate conversation," Ms. Rach said.

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