Last year at the Georgia IDEAS conference we had the great pleasure of meeting a very forward-thinking school district administrator, Laura J. Austin, Ed.S. As chairperson of Greenbrier High School’s Special Education Department, Laura immediately recognized how SuperSpeak AAC & PLAY would be a game changer for her students and teachers. Once SuperSpeak was implemented in her school, we were invited to visit to provide her team with an in-person training. That is when we met SuperStar ASD teacher Karyn Warren.
Karyn had been working with 19-year-old Liam, who at that time was having daily meltdowns, was unable to communicate and had never engaged with any other AAC put in front of him — apparently the school had tried them all. Karyn began telling us the beautiful story of how SuperSpeak AAC had finally enabled Liam to find his voice and had the whole workshop in tears of hope and pride. This is why our team at Superplus carries on! Thank you, Karyn Warren, for being a SuperStar ASD teacher and sharing your work with us!
Karyn, it’s super to get some time to chat with you! First things first: Tell us about your work!
I teach students with severe Autism in a self-contained setting. We focus on functional academics, social skills, independent living skills, appropriate behavior skills, and communication skills.
Which communications and language issues are you working with in your classroom?
Most of my students demonstrate echolalia, have poor receptive and expressive language skills, and have limited communication. Some of my students are non-verbal.
What other AAC tools and communication methods have you tried? Why do you think the other options didn’t work?
I have some students who have previously been taught sign language. All of my students have used PECS in the past (Picture Exchange Communication System).
One of the biggest limitations to sign language is that most other people do not know the language. This makes communication with others impossible if sign language is the child’s only means of communication. PECS was not successful for some of my students because they do not understand that the picture symbols represent real things. Also, PECS can become bulky if a child has a more expansive vocabulary because he or she would need cards to represent every item.
What need(s) were you hoping to address when you found SuperSpeak?
I wanted to give my non-verbal students a voice. I wanted them to be able to communicate their wants and needs and to decrease inappropriate behaviors due to an inability to express these things. For my students with limited communication, I wanted to provide them with support for their communication.
How do you use SuperSpeak and, in your opinion, what is its most important feature?
I use SuperSpeak for my non-verbal students to allow them to make choices, answer questions, and participate in group activities. I have been able to increase social interactions for these students and decrease frustration behaviors like crying, because they are finally able to communicate. The AAC capability is invaluable to me. One of my students has been with me for more than a year with no means of communication. He seemed to be lower functioning and demonstrated a lot of inappropriate behaviors like whining, crying, and beating on the desks. Since we have implemented the use the AAC app, we have found that he actually understands a lot and is able to participate in so many activities. He also has demonstrated very little inappropriate behavior since being given the ability to communicate.
What are some of the reactions you’ve seen from children who are using SuperSpeak?
They are excited and happy to be able to communicate. We also see a great improvement in behavior. At first, they required verbal prompts to use the app for communication instead of attempting other means unsuccessfully. After the students realized that communication was much more effective using the app, they began using SuperSpeak without prompting. It is amazing to hear them “speak!”
Where have you seen the biggest improvement since you first started using SuperSpeak to now?
I’ve seen the greatest improvements in behavior and task completion. Inappropriate behaviors like crying and stimming have decreased significantly, while task completion has increased dramatically. My students who are using the app know that they can make a request for a choice activity following task completion, so they are working to complete activities in order to get the requests honored.
For example, one of my non-verbal students was unable to communicate what he wanted to eat in the lunchroom. If we chose something he did not want, he would cry and beat on the table once he sat down to eat. In order to avoid this, the cafeteria workers used to make up multiple trays for him to choose from. When we got the app set up and saw that he could successfully navigate it, I took pictures of every option in the lunchroom. We created a category just for lunch. He is now able to select all of the items he wants to eat, and there is no longer a need to prepare multiple trays that may get wasted. Every time they have something new, I add it to the app.
What are some of the best practices or tips you want share with people who are struggling to communicate with a student?
First, you must use whatever means of communication you are teaching consistently. It should be your first thought when you are working with a student. Second, assume that a lot of behavior problems are a form of communication. If students are given other means to communicate, then they may engage in more appropriate behaviors. Third, when you are first introducing an alternative form of communication, you must attempt to honor any requests made by the student immediately. For example, if the student requests to go for a walk, if at all possible, you should take that child for a walk immediately. That teaches the student that communication means something and that it is worth the effort to initiate requests.
Karyn, you are indeed a SuperStar! Thank you so much for supporting SuperSpeak, both as a user and as a consultant. You’ve provided us with valuable insight so that, together, we can deliver the most progressive AAC app on the market. We wish all the best for you and your SuperKiddos!
Come hear Karyn Warren speak at the Georgia IDEAS Conference on June 7th! Karyn will present a detailed case study on 19-year-old Liam, whose life transformed after finding his voice through SuperSpeak AAC & PLAY. Karyn will explain how Liam learned independence and life skills in a presentation filled with fascinating data she has been tracking using ClassDojo and SuperSpeak’s built-in data. She’ll also provide some how-to’s and best practices for working with apps in a special needs classroom. Stay tuned — after the conference we will offer a summary of her presentation on our website. The presentation takes place June 7th at 3:15 pm in the Pioneer Room.