Tell Me - AAC in the Preschool Classroom: A New Direction for Our Homeschool
I made a new AAC friend last month. Dr. Carole Zangari, who blogs at PrACCtical AAC, and I spent a few hours on the phone getting to know each other and discussing her recently published book, Tell Me AAC in the Preschool Classroom. I have been desperate for direction for Nathaniel's education, and the program developed by Dr. Zangari and Lori Wise seemed promising. I have been studying the material daily since that conversation, and recently watched Dr. Zangari's webinar given through Saltillo. We had a second phone meeting yesterday morning. At one point in our hour and a half conversation, I had to get up from the table and pace the living room floor; the excitement brewing inside needed a physical release.
Talking with Dr. Zangari is like being back in graduate school - the best part of graduate school. Very quickly our conversations have resembled the mentor-student relationships I formed with Dr. Duffey, Professor Allison, and Dr. Torbert where making course connections to my life and teaching my children at home intimately blends academia and community based implementation. AAC theory and practice tumble after one another sentence by sentence as Dr. Zangari answers my questions. And when I can stay seated, I struggle to keep up in my note taking. She leaves me wanting more and wanting to do a better job with Nathaniel.
The most significant revelation from one week of using the Tell Me material and yesterday's conversation is that Nathaniel needs to hear more AAC use. The idea of aided language input, or modeling words on his communication device, is not new to me. I have been modeling for years. I have participated in modeling challenges; some months I have faithfully charted my daily modeling each night giving myself a smiley or frown face dependent on my efforts. Between speech therapy sessions, I willingly model the words Nathaniel's therapists select as weekly words. I move on to the next week's words with regularity.
Recently, I've done this with the objective of showing Nathaniel where to find words on his device or how to put them together in short phrases and sentences. Nathaniel's willingness to pay attention to the device and me feels like an important piece of this practice. I can quickly lose enthusiasm if he doesn't stop what he is doing and observe. This is wrong. My initial long term goal has been lost. My focus should not be modeling a set of AAC words to daily check a "I worked on therapy goals" box. My goal should be to speak AAC.
A college friend's son recently married a woman from Ecuador. I am not sure how my friend, Kay, has handled the language differences with her new daughter-in-law. I suspect if one of my sons marries a foreign language speaker, I would want to learn her language. I would want to incorporate her native tongue into our home as much as possible. I would do this to make her feel welcomed, comfortable, and loved. Over time, we would likely sort out which language, hers or mine, would dominate our interactions. One of us would have to make the extra effort and learn the other's language. I doubt I would know her well or that we would communicate effectively until one of us waived speaking in our own language for the sake of the other.
AAC is the only language my son will ever speak.
It is something I know. But then again, maybe I do not really accept the full implication of that statement. Because in many ways I'm still playing around with aided language input as if it's up for grabs which expressive language, his or mine, we will land upon.
Nathaniel needs to hear more AAC talk. He needs to hear his expressive language used in functional conversations with him, with Rich, and with his brothers. He needs to hear someone speak in AAC with the mail woman and the medical supply delivery man and his therapists and the checker at the grocery store and a friend visiting on a Monday morning. Because if I want him to speak someday (or today) with his dad, brothers, the mail woman, the delivery man, the therapists, the grocery clerk, and his friends, I have to be a model. A model who does more than use a set of AAC words for a few days and moves on; I have to model being an AAC speaker.
I have to yield speaking my language, so he can learn how to speak his.
We celebrated Josiah's high school graduation with an open house last weekend. All his siblings were home for the afternoon and evening. It was a beautiful time. Someone joked that we are the only school they've known where one hundred percent of the alumni attend each graduation. Outwardly, Saturday was a celebration for Josiah alone, but an era of our lives came to a close. Privately I celebrated a personal accomplishment. Twenty-five years ago, I determined to homeschool our children through high school. Josiah's graduation concludes that initial expectation.
My reluctance to settle on homeschooling Nathaniel is because I am very familiar with life in the trenches. The benefits of homeschooling can be incredible. The mother's personal sacrifice is the elephant in the room felt yearly. One of the reasons I attended graduate school was to experience a season where someone else created the lesson plans, passed out assignments, graded papers, and provided intellectual conversation.
My new friendship with Dr. Zangari is a timely gift. Practically, because I have voids in knowing how to teach an AAC speaker. Her depth of experience in clinical practice and in teaching master and doctoral level speech pathologist candidates is an expertise we could not access except through a mentoring relationship. Nathaniel will be the ultimate beneficiary. But beyond the advantages to him, using the Tell Me Program and forming a collaboration with Dr. Zangari and our local therapists is like Aaron and Hur standing beside Moses. It will help me keep on keeping on.