The older you get – the more there is to learn

I have been a professional in the field of disability services for more than two decades – and – I have a lot to learn. This past week I had the opportunity to learn from my esteemed colleagues at the Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in Los Angeles. This conference has been nick-named CSUN, as the California State University Northridge has championed this conference from its conception. This annual conference brings together professionals and assistive technology manufacturers for a week of professional development and networking. I am lucky enough to attend every year!

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is the area assistive technology that is of most interest to me. My career has focused on individuals with autism who do not develop spoken language. AAC provides alternative means for these individuals to convey their wants, needs, hopes and dreams. CSUN brings together many of the manufacturers that develop and distribute the technology that is used for AAC in large exhibit halls. I cruised the exhibit halls at looking for new ideas and seeing what manufacturers are developing in the area of AAC. The Assistive Technology Industry Association Web site is a great place to check-out the AT manufactures.

Learning sessions in AAC were also available throughout the week at CSUN. I learned about the use of text-messaging as an effective means of communication for AAC users. A session from Children’s Hospital in Boston described cutting-edge research to promote more effective communication for people with autism. These sessions and many more are wonderful professional development opportunities. I also was able to provide a session to my colleagues about a unique program I worked on in Hawaii to increase parental knowledge and participation for young children who utilize AAC.

I recently visited Amanda Baggs’ YouTube site. She is an AAC user and a person with autism. She has received national attention for a video she produced and published via YouTube, In My Language. I was blown-away by her message about how she communicates with the world. And, her communication strategies include AAC. Learning from the source – people with autism – is always enlightening.

Going to conferences like CSUN, reading professional literature and taking the opportunity to learn from people with autism like Ms. Baggs are all ways that I try to stay-on-top of what is happening in the world of autism. Having the opportunity to see a person with autism, an individual who does not utilize spoken language, successfully convey their message via AAC for the first-time is amazing. I have had this amazing experience many times in my career. This feeling will keep me traveling down the learning path – hoping that my work will include opportunities to support people with autism to become effective communicators. This feeling of contributing helps keep me motivated.

What’s your motivation?


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  1. Patricia Wright Says:

    Beth – so glad to hear about the success your son has had utilizing AAC. Communication is a powerful tool in our society. Providing augmented and alternative means for those that do not have access to verbal language is pivotal. I am sure that that message promoting AAC, delivered to the legislators and students at the university, was powerful coming from an augmented communicator!

  2. Beth Kimmel Says:

    THANK YOU for having some space dedicated to AAC. My son had some flirting with AAC but not much as he had some pretty reliable, albeit limited, speech for talking a stomr about Thomas the Tank, mythology, fictional monsters, Dr. Seuss and such. It was after being introduced to AAC and giving him some physical support that we learned that all of the above is “automatic” and is interested and capable of so much more than what comes out of his mouth verbally. In the past year he has given several university guest lectures and has approached legislators in his state about the need to safeguard and further develop AAC and training.

    Thanks for highlighting this so very important aspect of always learning!

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