A Magical SLP Moment: Why I Love Communication Notebooks
This week I had one of those magical speech therapist moments, when you see your student succeeding in using something that you’ve taught them and you remember how awesome your job is. That moment is my inspiration for this blog post. It all happened because of a tool that I love, a communication notebook. Communication notebooks are either notebooks or binders full of pictures that help people communicate. They can be used with people of any age who have a hard time talking – I’ve made them for all different types of kids. Some had speech delays and others were born with neurological conditions. I have also used them with older adults who have lost their ability to speak due to strokes or brain injury. Since I work mostly with kids and young adults, I’m going to talk about kids but know they can be used with adults.
Each page of a communication notebook has pictures or words that are important to the user’s life. I usually include core vocabulary of important words for school, home, and food. I’ll also make specific pages for things they love like places they often go, their favorite movies, and music. I like to include the student and family in making the books. We pick out the pictures together, the kids and their parents tell me what should be in it, and parents give me pictures from home to put in.
Communication notebooks get a bad rap. The iPad has overshadowed them because it’s new and high tech, but that doesn’t always equate to better. These notebooks are simple and they work. In clinical terms, we describe these notebooks as a low tech form of aided AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication). The term AAC can be off-putting because you might think instead of talking with their voice, the client will be using something else to talk. This isn’t the case – the AAC (which can come in many different forms) will support the user’s speech and in time, increase how much they talk.
So what’s so great about these notebooks? They work. They are backed by research and I’ve seen how effective and amazing these can be firsthand – which brings me back to my inspiring moment. The magic happened in a life skills classroom at the high school I work in. Last year I made a communication notebook for a 19 year old student who has Down syndrome. It was full of personality- with a full page devoted to Justin Bieber. She keeps the notebook in her purse and takes it out to show her friends and teachers. This month I have focused lessons on making small talk. My students they love to talk but when left alone, they sit quietly because they don’t have the support needed to have conversations.
After my small talk lesson was done the students had five minutes to hang out before the bell rang. I watched as a young man with Autism approached this girl and asked to look at her notebook. All of a sudden they started talking about the pictures they saw, using the words on each page as a jumping off point for the conversation. They talked about music they like, family members, and favorite holidays as the teacher and I watched in awe. In the past two years, these students have never had a conversation with each other on their own. Never! I could have cried I was so happy. This was one of these perfect moments when you see progress and that what you are doing has made an impact.
So remember, your child isn’t just speaking in pictures. They are using a tool to increase their communication. One of the best things about these is they grow with the student. They can be updated as frequently as you like- whenever the student has a new favorite singer or goes on a family vacation and wants to tell their class about it. Amazing communication moments are waiting to happen in your class, therapy room, or house!