AAC Skills Program for Children with Special Needs

The Cause

Renfrew Educational Services (Renfrew) is a not-for-profit society and registered charity offering a broad range of specialized programs for children. Fully accredited by Alberta Education, Renfrew’s programs and services lead the field in program development for children with special needs. Renfrew currently has five centers through Calgary where preschool and elementary education programs accommodate 700 children yearly. During these 43 years of operation, Renfrew has been at the forefront of innovative and progressive practice in the domain of children with special needs. The use of assistive technology has been a part of the service delivery at Renfrew for many years; a specific Assistive Technology team dedicated to this area of practice was created more than 15 years ago.

The Assistive Technology team has developed a four day AAC Skills Program for children who use AAC devices, and their parents/ guardians. Following research-based evidence as outlined above for this type of learning, this program is for children from ages 4 up to 12, provides time between the therapists and parents/guardians, time with the children and their particular device and therapists, and a time when parents/guardians are integrated into the learning environment. The program is a hands-on and fun program, a best practice in any educational endeavor. The first program of this type was held last year. It was a great success, and so a second program is planned for this spring.

This funding application is made to request the costs associated with the training, orientation, planning and program implementation time of involved staff and volunteers.

Who Will it Benefit?

Renfrew will offer the AAC Skills Program for children aged 4 to 12 years who use an AAC system like an iPad with a communication app, a NovaChat, an Accent or a PODD (Pragmatically Organized Dynamic Display) Communication Book to communicate. Fun activities will encourage social connection with peers while learning. With a field trip incorporated into the activities, participants will have an opportunity to work with their AAC system in the community. Parents/guardians will participate during the first 30 minutes of every session in order to see what their child is learning, increase their knowledge about their child’s AAC system, develop their skills with their child’s AAC system, and have a chance to meet other parents/guardians learning similar communication techniques.

Under the direction and with the guidance of a Speech-Language Pathologist and an Assistive Technology Assistant, the AAC Skills Program will be comprised of four Saturday sessions that will provide:
• opportunities for children who use AAC to develop friendships with other AAC users,
• opportunities for children who use AAC to improve their communication skills,
• opportunities for parents/guardians to learn more about their child’s AAC system,
• opportunities for parents/guardians to learn additional ways to support their child communicating with their AAC system and
• opportunities for parents/guardians to meet other parents/guardians of AAC users.

Who: Eight AAC users who are 4 - 12 years old, one therapist per session, one assistant per session, seven - eight volunteers and at least one parent/guardian for the first 30 minutes of each session.

Where: The Janice McTighe Centre location of Renfrew – 2050 – 21 St NE, Calgary, Alberta.

When: Four Saturday mornings. Staff are present for 3 hours, the children and parents/guardians are present for 2 hours.

Daily Program Schedule:

• 8:30-9:00 – Set up
• 9:00-9:30 - Discussion/Information-sharing with parents/guardians and therapist
• 9:00-11:00 – Programming for AAC users
• 9:30-11:00 - Opportunity for parents/guardians to join programming
• 11:00-11:30 – Clean up