As I work to support the integration of AAC devices and services into the daily lives of their users, I am continually confronted with the challenges parents, teachers and speech pathologists face with regard to supporting this complex task. I believe that language is learned in a multitude of ways, one of which is modeling. Children need the language they are to become experts in, modeled to them, in social and contextual environments. If the child is to use American Sign Language (ASL), his communication partners need to model the use of ASL to him, again in a socially meaningful environment. It must go one step further, the child must be capable of imitating this behavior, interacting with his environment, and the people with it, with the use of ASL to become competent. Passively observing will not result in functional use, let alone mastery.
Considering the ASL example, what does that mean for our students who use Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) such as those produced by Mayor-Johnson, Symbolstyx, or the Prentke Romich Company for their Vantage Lite? How does a teacher, in a class with several AAC users, model the use of three different symbol sets? Not all children can access symbols at this abstract level, but if they are indeed at this level, it is likely that they are capable, given effective instruction, to learn any of the three. What is difficult for them, however, is having to learn more than one set, or not being exposed to a set with the intensity, saliency and consistency of their typically developing peers learning language without the additional task of learning PCS, too.
I think we need to advocate for an open source set of symbols. We need to enlist the support of the programmers who Clay Shirky mentions on his TED talk. Given an open source set of communication symbols, we could create curriculum and therapy materials that could be shared nationally. I know many teachers and therapists giving thousands of hours to create custom materials to support individuals with complex communication needs. We are all re-creating the wheel so-to-speak, rather than offering our brilliant work up to one another. Teachers are trying to integrate PCS throughout their student's school day and the advent of the iPad, inFocus projectors and other technology is promising to support these endeavors like never before.
It is time to augment all individuals in need. Barriers from insurance companies and high cost devices need no longer inhibit effective communication for all. Creating non-propri