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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Friday, July 7, 2017

Social Commenting (notes for the ASF Conference)

Social Communication: Adolescents & Adults Developing/Expanding Communication Skills
Part 1: Social Commenting
by Deanna K. Wagner, MS/CCC-SLP
for the Angelman Syndrome Foundation Biennial Conference, July 2017

This session will provide ideas strategies to expand on social skills that help the emerging communicator establish and/or maintain relationships by not focusing primarily on requesting behaviors.  Instead of asking the person to request cereal, we can encourage extended social engagement by encouraging and practicing commenting forms of recurrence, negation, and disappearance.  And when we notice smiling and laughing when playing, we help/encourage more traditional symbolic ways to say “like.” 

Learning Objectives:
1.     Participants will list at least 3 social functions of communication (beyond requesting) and describe why it is important to move beyond requesting.
2.     Participants will describe how idiosyncratic and non-symbolic behaviors are communicative attempts by emerging communicators.
3.     Participants will be prepared to share at least one personal example of idiosyncratic or non-symbolic social communication.

The first thing we need to keep in mind is that everyone communicates.  Through the Communication Matrix, we can explore whether they are using idiosyncratic or symbolic means, and in all situations we need to be good investigators and observe both what and why they are communicating.  There are paper-based and on-line forms for the Matrix.  Below is a screen shot of the standard view of a teenager who uses conventional communication to make choices, ask for “more” of an object and answers yes/no questions because she can nod her head and look at what she wants.  She is learning to use an eye gaze communication system, and therefore her ability to request more of an action or to ask a question is still emerging.  She is also switching from using more concrete symbols to using abstract symbols on her device for a variety of purposes:  refuse/reject something, request more, request a new action or object, request attention and show affection.  Since she is very social (see that she has mastered “greeting people”), we are not limiting her symbols to only those that can be represented concretely, and she is using the abstract symbols purposefully (though inconsistently, since she is still learning).  

Here is my main precaution when using the Communication Matrix. Use the Communication Matrix so you can have a Skills List of specific behaviors, but please don’t consider it a hierarchy that all students need to pass through.  Requiring mastery of concrete symbols before moving on to abstract symbols could limit learning opportunities.  For students who truly need 3-D symbols, please see my entry on our AAC & Balanced Literacy Wikispace and check out the tactile symbols on the Project Core website.

The PragmaticsProfile by Hazel Dewart and Susie Summers is also a great way to document how somebody is communicating.  There is a preschool and a school-aged interview form.  The questions would also apply to adults who are learning to use alternate forms of communication.  Similarly, you could use the AAC Profile by Tracy Kovach to evaluate skill levels of the AAC user as well as communication partners as they relate to linguistic, operational, strategic, and social skills.

Consider purposes of communication (Light, 1988): Expression of needs/wants; Information transfer; Social closeness; and Social etiquette.  And consider communicative functions (Vantatenhove, 2016).  Even when communicating at the one-word level, young typically-developing children can express multiple functions: Greet or Part (hi/bye),
Request Assistance (help), Recurrence (more), Naming-Labeling, Existence (this, look), Nonexistence (gone), Disappearance, Rejection, Cessation (stop), Comments (like, yuck), Vocatives (mama, papa, baby),
Directive (help), Associative (up).

So, as we start our journey encouraging the first words on an AAC device and decide to focus on what are referred to as “core words,” we must be careful to remember to encourage their expressive attempts and model multiple reasons for communicating, keeping in mind the importance of the social aspects of these behaviors.  When a child reaches for something, we help him or her to say “want;” and if we notice smiling and laughing when playing, we help/encourage more traditional symbolic ways to say “like.” 

How about recurrence?  We can engineer the environment so it is necessary to ask for “more” of something.  I do this frequently when we are cooking, since we usually make this into a social activity.  I set the timer on the blender for just a few seconds and then wait.  Or I don’t add enough sugar and offer everyone a taste.  We also make computer time social.  Sometimes we use “turn the page” in an electronic book, or play/pause for YouTube videos.  I have even been known to e-mail instructions and leave out the last steps so it is obvious that somebody needs to ask me, “What’s next?”

Check out the Anatomy of a Conversation as described in the Can We Chat Book by Caroline Musselwhite and Linda Burkhart, available from TeachersPayTeachers.  Here are suggested conversational messages from 2001.  Do you think they have changed much?

The more we understand and can navigate a robust communication system, the more we can model social forms of expression.  Check out the ways we can expand and model social engagement using expressions on multiple devices.Please don't be concerned that the device you have is right or wrong, just remember to look for opportunities to practice social skills.

·      If using a device with icon sequencing, such as Words for Life, practice concepts linking from the LIKE icon, such as laughing, jokes, and fun. Or INTERJECTIONS – awesome, very good.

·      If using Proloquo2Go, be sure to check out the positive expressions pages (fun, cool, great, This is fun, I’m joking).

·      And in PODD communication books, the early and expanded functions books have whole pages with ways to say, “I like that” (e.g., clever/smart, fun, I like that).  The iPad app is called Compass with PODD from Tobii Dynavox, and it also has these pages.

If using TouchChat with WordPower, be sure to check out the Chat Pages from TALC AAC (Jill Senner).  Explore expanded/organized social pages from WordPower 20, 24, 42, 42Basic, 48, 60Basic, 60.  These pages have been designed to expand availability of vocabulary to allow people who use AAC to perform a variety of pragmatic functions such as making/responding to greetings to/from others, maintaining topics using typical responses, and asking for/responding to requests for clarification during conversation. These pages provide quick words and phrases for participation in time-dependent activities, such as making a phone call, while still providing access to core vocabulary. The following pages are included: starters/greetings, closers, conversational maintainers, regulation vocabulary, social questions, repair strategies, manners, telephone and news.  The page of maintainers include some nice examples of positive, neutral and negative comments.

The AAC users that I work with at an Adult Day Program (ValleyLife AZ) love making comments on social media.  We check out Facebook photos and YouTube videos.  We practice responding to the prompt, “What do you think?”  I also encourage their communication partners to ask them this question throughout the day.  This draws out an opinion or comment rather than responding “yes” or “no” through body language to the question, “Do you like it?”

Moving on to negation…  It is critical that our students learn to say “bye”, to indicate they are finished, and to tell us when they don’t like something.  If they don’t figure out how to do this by using language, they will tell us by using body language and behaviors.  Again, the Matrix or the Pragmatic Profile will give us a snapshot of how this student is communicating.  Also helpful is the Student AAC Profile by Gail Vantatenhove, since this includes data forms so that we can see whether opportunities have been provided and indicate what form of communication the student chooses to use across multiple days. 

I have had lots of fun helping the adult clients I work with personalize the messages that they use for saying bye.  Here are a few:  Bugs Bunny farewell, Arnold the Terminator saying “hasta la vista, baby”, bye-bye butterfly, Daffy Duck saying “I’m outta here”, gotta go, guess I better go now, see you later, take care of yourself, etc.

Here is a link to some you may find fun:


Light, J. (1988). “Interaction involving individuals using augmentative and alternative communication systems: state of the art and future directions”, AAC, 4, 2, 66-82

Vantatenhove, G. (2016).  Normal Language Acquisition & Children using AAC Systems.  http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/papers/Common/NLD&AAC.doc

1 comment:

  1. Here is a new link to the Communication Functions Checklist created by Caroline Musselwhite and Keisha Tipton.

    Comm Functions Checklist



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