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Why Literacy is Critical for Students Who Use AAC: Part 1 - Introducing the Alphabet

by Maureen Donnelly M.Ed January 23, 2020

Why Literacy is Critical for Students Who Use AAC: Part 1 - Introducing the Alphabet

In September 2019, Karen Erickson, the Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at UNC, delivered the keynote address at a UK conference called Communication Matters. Her talk went viral because she had so many important things to say about the role of literacy in the lives of people who use AAC. If you didn't catch it, watch it here:

Had you been there, you'd have seen more than 15 adults who use AAC, young and old, were stationed in the front row. As Karen outlined each of her points about the need to teach literacy, you could both hear and see their agreement- in body language, utterances, and even by using devices to call out affirmations. It was exciting to witness their excitement. Here's my summary of the most salient points:

  1. The only symbol set that allows you to say what we want when we want and to whom we want is the alphabet! Let's teach the alphabet from the very beginning!
  1. Introducing the alphabet and supporting AAC users as beginning spellers is the path toward truly generative and independent communication. Let's teach all our students to write, and in doing so, we will find out what they truly want to say.
  1. We all have a lexical gap, meaning that we all have words that we understand but don't necessarily use in our everyday vocabulary. Let's introduce and support our students in letter-by-letter spelling. Rather than give students words, we'll teach them to generate their own. It is how we give them the power to express what they truly think and feel!

All of this sounds good, right? But where to begin with alphabet learning and how to make it accessible? One easy solution is Reading Avenue: our comprehensive, accessible literacy program delivered free with your Boardmaker Online subscription (or available free with a 30-day trial).

Avenue A is the place to start. Your students can play with letters in the Alphabet Boards. They can explore letter-sound relationships with Tongue Twisters. They can learn how we form words with Onset Rime Activities. Read books found in the eight thematic libraries and point out letters and how they work to form words.

By introducing this range of accessible activities, you're off to a great start helping your students learn about the forms and functions of the alphabet. And it is just a start! There is so much more you can do to support your students.

Stay tuned for the next post, where I'll lay out the priorities for beginning writing.

For more information, visit the Reading Avenue overview page.

Maureen Donnelly M.Ed
Maureen Donnelly M.Ed

Maureen Donnelly, M.Ed, is an early childhood educator who currently holds the position of Curriculum Manager at Tobii Dynavox. Before this, Maureen contributed to the creation of numerous products that support emergent readers of diverse abilities and ages. Maureen lives and works in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in an office stuffed with children’s books.



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