"The program must ensure that each preschool child with a disability has access to a comprehensive plan for communication that allows the child, by the age of three years, to engage in expressive and receptive communication across all learning, home and community settings. The plan may allow for communication orally, by sign language, by assistive technology or by augmentative communication."
The initial reaction to this piece of legislation is that it is redundant because IDEA section 300.105 Assistive Technology provides for these devices and services:
(a) Each public agency must ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in Sec. Sec. 300.5 and 300.6, respectively, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child's--(1) Special education under Sec. 300.36;(2) Related services under Sec. 300.34;or
(3) Supplementary aids and services under Sec. Sec. 300.38 and 300.114(a)(2)(ii). (b) On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child's home or in other settings is required if the child's IEP Team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE.
Representative Sara Gelser http://www.leg.state.or.us/gelser/ has initiated the language in the bill that addresses AAC. I recently had the pleasure of attending a public hearing regarding the bill and hearing Rep. Gelser speak specifically to the intent of section HB2013, 10(b). Although she agreed that the bill’s language was redundant, she indicated that it was necessary because she knows three year olds, five year olds and twelve year olds who are not yet augmented.
I remain torn about the necessity of this language considering its redundancy, but I am not at all in disagreement with Rep. Gelser’s observations regarding the lack of comprehensive communication systems for our most complex communicators. I believe the field of AAC has made great strides, that technology is affording complex communicators viable communication devices and strategies like never before, but it is time to step up our efforts. Providing effective AAC services requires a multi-disciplinary approach, and both the success and the failures of implementing successful AAC services never rests on the shoulders of one individual or agency alone. We need to improve pediatrician identification of communication disorders, increase their referrals to the necessary speech-language therapy services and coordinate and monitor these services through good care coordination and/or a medical home. We need to increase the pre-service AAC instruction that speech-language pathologists receive before entering the field. We need to improve the education pre-service teachers and current teachers receive regarding Assistive Technology as well as language acquisition to support our most complex communicators in the least restrictive of settings. Lastly, we need to step up our efforts to include parents in every step of the process to support their child in their journey from novice to expert with their comprehensive communication system.
I am optimistic about the future of Oregon’s students who require the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Open and honest discussions about Oregon's need to increase access and use of AAC devices and services among the agencies and individuals posed to address the problem is the first step. And it is an exciting step!