This post is a follow up to my post Schools Out For Summer. I wish! That's a metaphor, it has been 10 days since our last day of real school. However this summer I am running my own "summer school". I am working with Ainsley on literacy skills and AAC since I will have larger blocks of time with her. Why would I do this? Because after years of "literacy instruction" at school my 9, nearly 10 year old cannot read. Not even simple words like "me" despite having a 1:1 aide, an extensive IEP and daily time in the General Education setting since Kindergarten as well as a pre-school program before that. Sadly I think the school's goal is that she learn to read and communicate by the time she graduates High School. That is aiming way low. Let's presume competence give her good instruction and see what happens!
I think the intentions are good but the methods are the issue.The school's literacy curriculum (for special education) is not defined, it is not complete and has consisted primarily of picking the correct word from a field of three. I think they hoped this activity would prepare Ainsley for reading since she would be recognizing the sounds in the words. I doubt this method would be sufficient to teach a neuro-typical child that is fully physically capable. It's certainly not engaging or fun (isn't engagement proven critical in learning) and though it's a way to collect data it isn't a very good method of teaching. Ainsley did not receive the same literacy instruction a typical child would during Kindergarten and 1st grade and beyond. Children like Ainsley need MORE than the normal instruction not less.
It seems the school thinks I should be happy with her "progress" because after several years of letter ID and this field of 3 activity she can now pick correctly 20-24 out of 26 times, an improvement from when she first started this activity. Since Ainsley is non-verbal it is difficult to assess her level of understanding and they would like to believe the data they are collecting means she is close(r) to reading.
I wasn't convinced so prior to Ainsley's IEP I did an assessment of my own. It is far more accurate than their method and it shows pretty conclusively that Ainsley is not even close to reading site words or anything else. I'd forgotten that I'd recorded it, but happened to find it today after I'd been working on some literacy skills with her. I want to share it to show just how misleading field of 3 selection is, since for a child without the understanding of letter sounds and phonics it is literally nothing more than guessing. Prior to this video she got nearly all of the cards correct when choosing from a field of 3 but unfortunately I didn't film that and later she was too tired to perform as well. Toward the end of the video you see how she is able to identify the words with AAC when given oral instruction. Although this video shows Ainsley clearly cannot read I think it also shows that she is capable and interested in learning to read!
Teaching her to read will be more difficult because of her CH and her dependence on AAC. That is the second piece of our efforts this summer, AAC skills. This year I researched AAC apps and equipment after having an AAC evaluation by a qualified SLP at Seattle Children's Hospital in December. The assessment was validating, confirming an IPad was likely the best choice with a bluetooth speaker regardless of how it was "funded" (IPads can be purchased by insurance as a dedicated AAC system). The SLP wasn't able to make the decision on which app to use. After waiting for one company to put out a major upgrade that was supposed to be released in March but never came we sought input from the school team and settled instead on Gateway for ProLoQuo2Go a vocabulary design made by SLP Joan Bruno that runs in the ProLoQuo2Go app. It's loaded on a full size IPad as well as a mini and I plan to design a mini version for my cell phone for emergencies. There a lot of factors that went into the decision that I hope to write about in greater detail in the future.
I think it was a good decision. I have learned no system is perfect. Each has advantages over others. I had some work to do with equipment and customization but we made the switch in May so school staff could familiarize themselves with the new features of the app and hardware in the last month of school so it isn't all new in September. I've been working hard to finalize the vocab and hope that with a combined approach on both literacy and AAC we will see some real gains over the summer. We will be meeting at the end of the summer to amend the IEP and my hope is that the school staff will receive some instruction on Aided Language Input (aka. Aided Language Stimulation or ALS, or modeling) so they can incorporate that and other practices throughout the school day to increase Ainsley's ability to communicate and thus access an appropriate education.
In the mean time we will keep on keeping on doing what we can while still trying to have a fun summer. Wish me luck. We'll need it.