Incorporate cool down or relaxation activities into the school day (e.g., yoga, deep breathing).

This website is dedicated to promoting inclusive schooling and exploring positive ways of supporting students with autism and other disabilities. Most of my work involves collaborating with schools to create environments, lessons, and experiences that are inclusive, respectful, and accessible for all learners.


How AAC and assistive tech make classrooms better for all

Posted on August 02, 2013 in Inclusion, Literacy, News

In 2009, I published an article in The Reading Teacher with my colleague, Kelly Chander-Olcott, titled “Why Everyone Benefits from Including Students with Autism in Literacy Classrooms”. One of the points we make in the article is that students with disabilities often bring assistive technology and augmentative communication into classrooms and, therefore, make them richer places to learn. Students with and without disabilities who are in classrooms that use AT and AAC regularly and creatively not only may get access to unique materials, but also get to learn about learning itself. They may be able to generate ideas for using AT and AAC in their own studying and learning; they get to see first-hand that there are many ways to learn and express what you know; and they often become wonderfully curious about the possibilities for using AT and AAC in the classroom and beyond.

When I got this email from a mom this week, I could not wait to share it. It not only illustrates how important it is to presume complexity and competence in learners who cannot always show it, but it also serves as a reminder to be creative with learning tools and to involve peers whenever possible as you teach new technologies.

Here is the note:

My son is 6 years old and has both Down syndrome & autism (overachiever! LOL). He is non-verbal & despite being in a “special” school for [preschool] and kindergarten last year he is learning to use his AAC device this year and has caught on quite quickly! Sadly it wasn’t used much at [his old school] as “he never demonstrated that level of skill” to which your quote you shared of “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” really struck me.

Last year we switched him to a typical first grade class in our neighborhood school. He has a number of challenges so he had a one on one aide this year and after attending your presentation I came back with a whole host of ideas to which she was very receptive. He had been doing well with participating in what he could, but his learning really “took off” once they realized that he is learning to read & does understand more than anyone thinks! I found some books with repetitive phrases & programmed them onto his tablet and much to everyone’s surprise he needed little prompting to read the pages (he’s still learning the device too!).

It makes me so happy that this simple experience has opened up an entire world for him. His classmates were all very good with him before but after he read his book to the class it shifted his status up, I think. This had a bit of a rollercoaster effect as suddenly the excitement over teaching him new things seemed to be supercharged and he showed them and me more of what he’s learning. Kind of saddening that he had to prove his ability before the excitement of his learning capacity ignited, but hopefully this excitement will transfer over to other kids that didn’t “demonstrate their skills”.

Fortunately he has loved books since he was little & his favorite activity was and is to have books read to him.

Oh! How could I forget? The books! Don’t you love that last part? Another big part of this success story is this family literacy piece. This little guy was set up for success from the beginning because of all of the reading happening at home.

Hope you found this story as inspiring as I did.

How have you seen AAC and/or assistive technology make inclusive classrooms better for all?


  1. From Terry Heaney on 21 Nov 2013

    Hi Paula,
    I’m interviewing for a job as an Inclusive Learning Coach, in Canada, in a division that is still lukewarm to the idea of inclusion. I am a Canadian with a pretty broad special education background including a Masters in Special Ed. I am excited about the prospect and beginning to think more realistically about what this position might entail. The position is with an elementary school with a specific focus on literacy. My experience is mostly with secondary students and I know that is going to be challenged in the interview. Do you have any suggestions about highest priority items, not necessarily strategies, related to fostering literacy in an inclusive classroom?

    I am just getting connected to the literature and will, of course, peruse your site to glean what I can. I am told that I will have all the resources that I can lay my hands on to help develop my understanding. There is a great deal I will need to learn but the prospect becomes more exciting and less daunting with each piece I read. I will be working on connecting with the growing community on this side of the border and would appreciate any thoughts you might have.
    Terry Heaney
    Alberta, Canada

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