Welcome to our sixth episode of AAC Tip Talks, a series of vlogs (video blogs) and a podcast (because we want you to learn your way!) offering tips for professionals and partners supporting people who use AAC. Each talk is a quick chat designed to give some initial strategies and connect you with resources to continue your learning. All AAC Tip Talks are offered by Mentors from across the global community. You can watch the full chat below or on our YouTube Channel. If you'd rather listen in, tune in to our AAC Tip Talks podcast.
We're switching things up a bit this month to take the time to spotlight an amazing young woman and her beautiful AAC service project. Learn more about Lehar Goenka and the AAC resource guide she created for families supporting children with Autism in this week's video or podcast short. You can also learn more about the inspiration behind Lehar's resource guide (Implementing AAC: A low-tech symbol-based aided guide with advice aimed at parents of autistic children) in her companion blog post below.
Want to get this free guide? You can download it from our Tools page here.
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The Story Behind The Resource
by Lehar Goenka
I started this project about a year ago, and my journey has been both exciting and stressful. I have met so many amazing people and discovered many resources that helped me create my product. I have learned how to manage my time, find reliable sources, and synthesize my information through this project. I feel truly grateful to contribute something back to the community.
AAC has been an integral part of my life since my brother was diagnosed in 2012. Over the last ten years, my family and I have gone through an AAC journey, starting from low-tech with PECS to high-tech with Proloquo2go, which we use today. My dad’s job exacerbated our journey, which has made us move across five cities in the past ten years. Every time we moved, my brother would have to change his support system. Each change brought different professionals with different ideas for his improvements. Every weekend we took my brother to equine therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, audio therapy, and countless other recommendations.
My brother’s late diagnosis of apraxia made our journey extra challenging, as we weren’t wholly addressing his needs until the diagnosis. We still hoped that he would be able to talk, and using AAC felt like we would be giving up on that. We learned too late that it was a myth; AAC can be a supplement to communication and a replacement to communication.
In 2016, when we implemented AAC, we could communicate with him. Nothing was perfect, but when he cried, instead of feeling helpless, we were able to provide him a device where he could say, “I want ice cream” or “It hurts.” He still can’t express things and days when we are helpless, but they have been significantly reduced.
I have constantly explained AAC to my friends, my brother’s teachers, and my brother’s classmates. In 4th grade, I created a presentation for my brother’s class, explaining how his brain works differently and why he speaks through an iPad. In 6th grade, I presented a slideshow to my brother’s teachers to explain his AAC device and how he communicates. I find AAC so simple yet life-changing and wanted to learn more about it as it would have helped my brother. I wanted to use my experience and knowledge to help people and know more about the world of AAC.
Thus the idea of creating an AAC guide came about. My mom struggled to learn about AAC when she implemented it for my brother. The number of terms, vocabulary, prompts, and types of AAC intimidated her. There was a wide range of sources she could rely on, and she spent countless hours on websites. I wanted to create a guide where all the basic questions were answered and all the terms were explained. I wanted it to be accessible and easily implementable, and that’s why I chose to focus on low-tech AAC. Especially in India, it is challenging to find experts who are knowledgeable about AAC, and I hope this guide can let them get an overview of the topic and be inspired to explore it further.