*Editor's note: Information from the 2018-19 school year, which has since been phased out
BAHS student Micah Heckathorne uses his device to communicate with teachers attending the Life Skills Cafe
ICAN Talk Clinic
When life skills students from Rachael Davis and Jeff Rager’s classes at Bellefonte Area middle and high schools participated in the annual chili cookoff, they used their augmentative and alternative communication devices to help them interact with each other and the patrons who were a part of it. They were required to go to the store, buy ingredients, plan the meal, cook the chili and hold a presentation.
The event was created as a way to promote ETC activities based on facilitating communication skills using the devices, which allows a user to program vocabulary into it – including everyday words and that more specific to activities and events the student is participating in, such as a chili cookoff. Those with limited literacy skills can instead communicate using icons and images programmed into the device.
To help students at Bellefonte Area School District who have disabilities that prevent them from verbally communicating, the special education department provides them with an assistive communication device and regularly works with the ICAN Talk Clinic of Pittsburgh to assist students, staff and parents with alternative communication means.
According to Director of Special Education Gina MacFalls, the district has worked with the ICAN Talk Clinic for the past three years that provides further training for students, teachers, paraeducators and parents regarding use of the augmentative and alternative communication devices assigned to the child.
When a student is a candidate for an assistive technology device, representatives from the ICAN Talk Clinic meet with the involved parties; identify the students’ needs, strengths and communication gaps; and determine the appropriate device that should be used. Once that is established, the district purchases the device and two-day training sessions are held four times annually to help individuals gain more knowledge, skills and understanding of the devices and communication means used by their students.
Each device also has a database that collects information about how much the student is using it. This allows staff to work with families of the child to make sure it’s the most effective product for the child, while also making sure it’s being used properly. Backup plans have also been established if the device fails to work.
The ICAN Talk Clinic, under direction of founder Katya Hill, provides training on proper and effective use of augmentative and alternative communication devices as a means to best communicate when verbal skills are limited. The clinic is part of the AAC Institute, established in 2000, as a resource for enhancing the communication of people who rely on augmentative and alternative communication.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD