Joey’s AAC device is back! It’s wonderful to be able to hear his ideas and thoughts again. When we were reading Click, Clack, Surprise, he used it to tell me that the messy little duck needed a mirror.
He’s used his words to say “Don’t read” so he could get himself together, and then once he was ready he said “Begin.”
In the midst of a book he said “Wish Grandpa”. I asked “Where is Grandpa?” and he responded, “Couch” before looking at the couch, turning back to his device and saying “none” since there was no grandpa on the couch.
My favorite may have been when he said “Bite” before putting a toy into his mouth and eating it.
I love that he is back to being able to express his wishes, share his observations (the duck really did need a mirror), and be silly with his vocabulary. However, having this transition from no words to having words also lets me reflect on how much harder it is to actually work with a child who can express themselves.
When Joey’s words were out for repair, he was a eager participant. I could fill our hour long sessions with my own words, and I controlled when Joey participated. Because Joey is eager to learn and be active, these sessions were great. He sat patiently and waited for me to get out the materials that would let him make a choice. He didn’t interrupt me to ask me to stop reading so he could move toys on his tray into the right position. He didn’t interrupt to share ideas about the duck needing a mirror, or randomly start talking about dinosaurs in the middle of a book. He didn’t tell jokes or try out new words in the midst of our lessons.
As a teacher, it was easier, but that doesn’t mean it was better.
In teaching, we always have to remember that it’s not about us, or efficiency, our plans, or our comfort. Which is hard, frustrating, and can require self-reflection.
With his words back Joey is able to talk like a typical five year old. He can interrupt, attempt to change the topic, be silly, tell jokes, or completely ignore the adult talking to him. With a typical five year old we can’t just turn off their voice. We have to use strategies to help them stay on task. And a typical five year old has a lot more power of words than Joey does, because they can talk faster or raise their voice to express their emotion. Joey’s auditory output on the device remains at a neutral tone, and his rate of speech depends on how fast he can find his words.
It’s tempting to interrupt Joey while he talks and erase the words on his screen that are distracting him from our work. It’s a simple push of a button to move from the off-topic dinosaur page back to the main screen. But of course, typical five year olds don’t have screens we can move them away from.
I try to remind myself to use many of the phrases I’d use in the classroom with off-topic comments or interruptions. “We’re going to get back on topic.” “Right now we’re reading the book. We’ll finish the book and then talk about dinosaurs.” “First the book, then cars.”
And yet, there is even a balance here, because if I stop Joey’s additions to our lessons all the time, I’ll never know that he wanted to share that the duck needed a mirror, that a character was making bad choices, or that he suddenly is wondering where his grandfather went. I find myself giving him time to compose his thoughts – off topic or not – before bringing him back to our book. It’s more important for him to practice putting his ideas into the world through his device than it is to be on topic all the time. I easily could stop his ideas before they start, and yet that feels like it isn’t honoring Joey’s thought process. He needs to learn to stay on topic and honor the conversation in front of him, but sometimes the best way to learn this is to get off topic and then be brought back.
Having the device back reminded me of how essential access to communication is, as well as how much responsibility it puts on us teachers to move from delivering lessons to reflecting on our roles as communication partners.