Can We Communicate?

Cathy Ballou Mealey and her son Liam

Cathy and her son Liam enjoying some outdoor time together.

Can We Communicate? A Cotting Parents Connect Blog

On our first visit to Cotting School as a potential school for our son Liam, one of the things we were most excited about was the inclusion of Communication Therapists in the day school program. Of course our son’s IEP still called for ‘speech therapy’ but communication has always been our primary goal. An immersive communication environment was exactly what we wanted and found for him at Cotting School.

A focus on Communication Therapy is an especially important aspect of programming for students at Cotting School. Approximately 30% of the Cotting School student population uses some form of Augmentative and Assistive Communication (AAC) to communicate and most students have communication goals as a part of their IEP. Cotting’s department of seven Communication Therapists (CTs) works with students every day who are striving to communicate for basic needs, share their opinions, ask questions about lessons, repair communication and create lifelong social connections with their peers.

Newsletters, blogs and websites often have fresh ideas, new tips and technology updates to help support your child’s learning progress. I have posts from The Autism Helper written by teachers, therapists and parents sent directly to my email, making it easy to click and read. Their recent piece by Holly Bueb about a classroom “Communication Station” seemed interesting, focused on four goals that seemed reasonable and appropriate. The basics are:
Mantra – One guiding principle shared by all: “I use my words to connect with others.”
Warm-up – A short, simple review about category naming
Activity – A quick, tactile classroom skill practice drill
Share – An awareness and attention building opportunity

I forwarded the link to Jane Perera, our son’s CT, thinking she might wish to explore the idea of classroom ‘Communication Stations’ and heard back that Jane immediately forwarded it to her department as well to Liam’s classroom teacher. Jane’s takeaways: “I love the idea of a “Communication Station” and the mantra “I use my words to connect with others.” It’s something all of our students can stand to be reminded of, not just those with autism. I’m excited to explore the idea of a structured routine like this at the beginning of our social skills group. Parents, we know that you are the experts on your children and on their particular diagnoses, and we value collaborative thinking.”

Next, I thought about creating a home ‘Communication Station’ for our son to reinforce and expand his communication practice. All I needed was his Cotting binder, iPad charging cord, his Boogie Board LCD writing tablet, and the list of prompts.

Here’s where we began:
Mantra – “Let’s talk about our day.” (A playful, sing-song tone keeps this fun!)
Warm-up – Today was (day of the week, month, weather, holiday, etc)
Share – On TouchChat or Boogie Board, tell me one thing about (lunch, ride home, job)
Activity – Together let’s (set the table, go outside, put away shoes)

These items are slightly re-ordered to fit into the flow of our home life schedule. I’m excited to see if daily practice within a consistent format will increase our son’s communication skills and enthusiasm for talking about his day. Do you think a ‘Communication Station’ would be helpful for your child too?

Cathy Ballou Mealey and her husband John are the parents of Liam, a Capstone student in his third year at Cotting. They live in Lynnfield with their daughter Grace, who is a high school junior.

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