Inclusion: First Steps in Overcoming the Obstacles of
Assistive Technology for Communication in the Classroom

Assistive technology for communication in regular classroom settings challenges the user of AAC technology as well as his/her school personnel "to be ready to meet a fast-paced nonredundant language environment very different from past experiences in ‘typical’ special education classrooms that often presented routine, predictable activity-based vocabulary demands." (McCloskey, 1995). Successful planning and implementation in an inclusive classroom is a team effort with the classroom teacher and the assistive technology team (parents, speech-language pathologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, vision specialist, school computer technology specialist) along with other support personnel involved with the student.

In order to ensure that the student has the communication tools needed in the regular classroom, several factors must be considered (Sturm 1989): 1) Assess the communication style and communication opportunities within the classroom to develop the vocabulary the child will need to participate, by considering the following types of questions: Does the child know the routine in the classroom?, Is the routine conventional or idiosyncratic?, How are transitions throughout the day handled?, What are the number and types of events within the classroom? 2) Assess the teacher’s and aide’s instructional language patterns, e.g., What types of questions are asked?, What types of directions are given?, What amount of processing and/or response time is provided?, Are opportunities for participation presented in ways that allow the student to prepare responses without causing the group to wait? 3) What are the vocabulary demands required of the student with respect to the curriculum (McCloskey, 1995): i.e., asking simple YES/NO questions, WH-questions which increase the vocabulary demand, and open-ended discussion questions with vocabulary demands high and a need by the student to generate language structure quickly and efficiently.

For students not "on grade level", the following are key points for their inclusion (McCloskey 1997): 1) Provide several opportunities throughout the day to experience successful communication interaction. 2) Include repetition of brief episodes of communication-focused interaction integrated into the daily routine. 3) Involve peer models in classroom activities, which benefits both students with and without disabilities.

Public schools are meeting the challenges of mainstreaming by partnering with rehabilitation facilities and special education programs (Scalise, 1996). Special education teachers are a valuable resource for the inclusive classroom teacher. Assistive technology resource centers such as the T-TACs statewide services to school personnel and a continuum of professional workshops and conferences may provide the starting points.

The following are suggestions from two mainstreamed high school AAC users, Kaye and Phillip, wh developed their own ideas on successful inclusion:(Van Tatenhove, 1995):

Ten Simple Suggestions: After you Find Out You Are Getting A Student Into Your Class
Who Communicates Using Assistive Technology

  1. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath and relax.
  2. Stand in front of your mirror and say "I am a great teacher." Say it 10 times and mean it. Remember, I was probably assigned to your class because you are a good teacher.
  3. Take a week to get to know me before you plan for me.
    - Look for the ways I am like your other students.
    - Look for the ways that I am unique from your other students.
    - Talk to my past teachers.
    - Be grateful that I probably won’t talk back or out of turn.
  4. Write down everything that you think is going to be a problem, from medical worries to toileting to seizures to question-asking to whatever.
  5. Bring your issues and concerns to the team for creative problem-solving. Be honest and lay your concerns on the table.
  6. Request any special training that you believe you need. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. What is the best way for you to get that training? (In a group, in writing, 1:1 with an AAC support team member, trial and error?)
  7. Ask the AAC support team members to define their roles and resources. How do they think they can and will support you? How accessible are they?
  8. Make a wish list of the equipment and technical support you think you need to better serve me. You might want to ask me what I need.
  9. Give yourself some "breaking in" time. Don’t expect to be comfortable or have all the answers right away. Ask how I can gradually be made more and more independent in your class? After a couple of months, rethink how you are doing things.
  10. Know who to call when you have trouble. Get all the phone numbers of important people and resources. Call them when you need them.


Clark, Mary and Coleman, Linda (June1994). Access to Inclusion. TeamRehab, 28-33.

Association Special Interest Divisions, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 4, 4-6.

Sturm, Janet M. (1989). Classroom communication checklist. Paper presented at the ASHA Convention, St. Louis, MO.

Scalise, Mardi (March 1996). Homework for Students and Teachers. TeamRehab., 26-27.

Van Tatenhove, Gail (1995). A Student Guide for Successful Inclusion. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Special Interest Divisions, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 4, 12-13.

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