Workshop helps CRS staff open the lines of communication for consumers

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Children’s Rehabilitation Service recently hosted an advanced workshop focusing on accessing augmentative communication devices with Prentke Romich Company (PRC). PRC is a major ACD manufacturer and trainer for proper usage of the technology.

Speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and assistive technology specialists from CRS and across the state were in attendance for the program, which was held in Montgomery and included hands-on use of ACDs.

The presentation, conducted by Assistive Technology Works Director Chip Clarke, was titled, “ALL Access: Expanding Opportunities for Individuals Using AAC and Alternative Access.”

Most trainings focus on the operation of devices or language systems and how to navigate and program those systems. CRS Speech-Language Pathologist Specialist Sonia Cleckler said this training session was a reminder that children with complex disabilities might not be able to simply reach out and touch a device.

“We have to look at their full body to figure out the best way they can access things – whether it is via a switch, head pointing, or eye gaze,” she said. “We have to figure out what part of the body they use, where they are most effective, and where they can use this method of access for a long period of time with greater accuracy. We want them to be accurate with the messages they give us, and we want them not to be fatigued quite as quickly because we need them to be able to communicate effectively throughout the day.”

Clinic participants within and outside of CRS had an opportunity to discuss how important access is for daily living and communication.

Assistive technology specialists who work within the school systems might not always be speech therapists. Cleckler said they are often special education teachers who specialize in assistive technology. The workshop helped these participants gain a better understanding of the different ways to evaluate access and the different methods of access available so they can make more informed recommendations.

“That child with medical complexities might be on a waiting list for a medical evaluation and then waiting on the device, so looking at different ways to communicate up until that point and after delivery is really important,” she said.

Some students receive devices from therapists outside of CRS and are not always sure how to use them. Cleckler said one of their goals of the training sessions was for outpatient therapists and special education teachers to gain the ability to evaluate the devices and the consumer’s needs for more effective communication.

People sometimes see devices as a magic wand without realizing how much practice it requires for the user to effectively implement the systems. Cleckler said a new device can be like learning a new language. This can be extremely difficult for someone who has limited mobility and stamina.

“In the end, it is going to benefit any of the users if they can use the modality to help them select the message they want to use,” she said. “It is going to support their language, their communication, their independence. It’s going to help the parents and the caregivers to not have to guess all of the time what they want.”

It did not take long to receive feedback from participants, Cleckler said. By Tuesday, she had already received emails describing how the lessons had been applied within schools. She said she is looking forward to future training sessions and continued progress.

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