TRUE FAITH – THE ABCs of STARTING S2C

PLAY THIS SONG WHILE YOU READ THIS BLOG
Warning: My blogs from this point forward might come with background music if you don’t mind. Today, it’s TRUE FAITH by New Order, one of my favorite 80’s bands.  This is my “new beginnings” song, and it reminds me of moving forward in good faith toward something new and exhilarating like we did after meeting Elizabeth Vosseller (a.k.a. EV) and my son began his spelling journey.  (Side note: I decided a year ago that this will be my post-pandemic song too!).  

I feel so extraordinary
Something’s got a hold on me
I get this feeling I’m in motion
A sudden sense of liberty

Oh yeah.  

This song and this blog entry goes out to people who are without reliable speech, and to their families whom, all together, are taking the giant leap of faith into learning to use spelling as communication. The song also makes me think about the road my family was on before spelling.  By the time the pencil was poked through the first letter, we were exhausted, and no one had worked harder than our nonspeakers. Feel good about what’s coming.  It’s going to be amazing! 

Before I go any further:  There are two stages of S2C:  Acquisition and Application.  This blog is meant for people in the Early Acquisition stages: the beginners, who are just getting started with the intent to practice at home. The Acquisition stage is the entire time a speller is developing their skills on letterboards until they can fluently spell out multiple sentences of open-ended thoughts on a letterboard, with multiple communication partners, in most settings.  

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, training

The speller and their first communication partner (besides a Practitioner), are in the Early Acquisition stage together.  The speller’s only job at this stage is to point to letters purposefully and accurately.  The first communication partner, presumably a parent, is learning to use a variety of tools to coach the motor for purposeful and accurate pointing while maintaining their own self-regulation to support their spelling partner’s emotional and sensory regulation.   

Caution!  I will be direct.  I feel I’d be doing the readers of this blog entry a disservice if I don’t tell it like it is and not all of my advice today is warm and fuzzy.  I won’t attempt to go through everything about starting S2C at home.  I will touch on some concepts you’ve heard before because they are THAT IMPORTANT, but I will mostly stress some things as a practitioner who is a parent first.  I know where you’re coming from.  I’ve been there, and I’m all the way over here now.  As a practitioner, I often see parents insist on doing things differently than what is prescribed, which will only impede, not accelerate, progress in fluency for a new Speller.  Your child deserves a fair shot at doing this right.  So I’m going to talk about that.  

The things I want you to know TODAY, as you embark on your journey into the Spellerverse are as follows: 

FOR OPTIMAL RESULTS – 

  1. MAKE THE DECISION TO DO THIS RIGHT, AND IN GOOD FAITH.  You might be a perfectionist who is so worried about doing this wrong that you become fearful of doing it at all.  That’s ok.  We all did it wrong at the beginning. The only thing that any of us did RIGHT is that we started!  Then we kept going and we listened to people who were qualified to advise us in adjusting our sessions to move past our mistakes.  When I say “do it right”, I mean choose a methodology and follow it, don’t do it half-assed, so to speak.  For the sake of this article, we’ll talk about S2C methodology, because that’s what I’ve been trained in and know.  How would you do it right and in good faith?  Read on!
  2. FIND A PRACTITIONER.  GET INITIAL GUIDANCE.  KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THEM. A practitioner’s advice is critical at the beginning of the spelling journey and periodically as you move through the acquisition stages.  They will teach you how to use the boards appropriately, how to use your voice and the various prompts, and how to use lessons, among so many other things.  They will examine your speller and make recommendations tailored to your speller’s sensory and emotional profile which directly impacts their motor. Practitioners will model how to run your sessions with a presumption of competence, in case you need the help – let’s face it we all do at the beginning!  They will direct you to resources, explain the foundations of S2C like the brain-body disconnect, the understanding of which is critical to doing this right. Thanks to a worldwide pandemic, practitioner guidance became a lot more accessible! So if there’s no practitioner located near you, you can get this guidance online.
    After some initial sessions, your practitioner will recommend a plan; then, you can decide whether having your speller meet with a practitioner for regular sessions fits into your schedule and budget.  If it doesn’t, you can still TOTALLY do this!
    After three initial sessions with EV during an outreach a couple of hours away from our house, we went home and practiced as much as we could.  In those days, there was no practitioner in the area, or our country, for regular guidance.  After 3 months of what seemed like dreadful practicing at home, I sent EV a ten-minute video to review.  She reviewed it, we had a half-hour Zoom call and I got feedback which, when applied, immediately improved our sessions going forward.  Her feedback was a huge game-changer for us.  I corrected some mistakes that were either hindering progress or creating bad habits, she prescribed our next steps and explained HOW to go about them.  She also gave me some useful analogies of key concepts so it all made sense.
    This is why I would urge anyone to invest in periodic check-ins of their own partnership with their speller, with an endorsed Practitioner.  These periodic check-ins can work with your schedule and your budget. Don’t wait for problems to arise before scheduling a check-in.  Sometimes you think you’re doing well, but only a practitioner will know if you have developed some bad habits that will be harmful to your Speller later on, if not extinguished immediately.I would caution anyone against trying to use letter boards for apraxic individuals without a rigorously trained Practitioner’s guidance.And now for the stuff that’s hard to hear – for optimal results:
  3. DON’T TRY TO RE-INVENT THE WHEEL!
    You’re here because you heard this method works.  Please listen to your practitioner and please don’t make suggestions as to how your practitioner should deliver this methodology differently, or how the methodology can be improved.
    The reason why S2C Practitioners do things our way is because we know it works this way.The reason why we don’t change things based on random suggestions we receive from parents trying this for the first time is because we don’t know that it works that way and we are not trained to run experiments.
    One example is that you may decide to by-pass some steps in the motor (which is how the letterboards are used), to expedite the process of getting accurate at the beginning;  but we already know that these shortcuts create congestion down the road when we try to build the cognitive – “the cognitive” being the open-ended communication that Spellers and their CRPs work so hard to acquire and apply.
    It’s hard for me to say this because I know where you’ve been. You’ve been the CEO of your child’s life their entire lives.
    You’ve been managing therapies and staff.  I know that sometimes therapists, educators, or other support workers in your child’s life didn’t listen to you and things went awry as a result.  It’s happened to me too.  But please have faith in what we do in S2C.  We do acknowledge that every child is different and we’ll ask for any helpful information about your child to tailor our sessions to a variety of profiles in accordance with our training.  We also have a protocol, best practice standards, and a code of Ethics that we follow and we will not deviate from these.
    That’s as tough as I’ll get.  I hope I didn’t lose you.
    Next up – for optimal results, know that:
  4. THE FASTEST WAY IS THE SLOW WAY.  This is my personal motto regarding S2C and each and every one of my clients has heard it.  There is no quick and dirty way to become fluent.   How else can I put it: if you want to fast-track fluency, don’t create your own shortcuts.  They don’t work and they hinder progress.  I am firm on that.  Use cognitive lessons, follow the motor hierarchy of the letterboards consistent with the methodology, and do not start playing with the cognitive hierarchy of response types without checking in with a practitioner who can look at the whole picture and advise you as to whether it’s appropriate.   If you don’t see a practitioner regularly, they can advise you as to when it’s time to step up the motor or cognitive hierarchy. If you don’t understand what anything in this paragraph means, then you are definitely not ready to go full steam ahead.  Just keep up the good energy!If you are on the beginner boards or have just moved up to your first 26 board, don’t think too far ahead.  Worry about accuracy on spell words and known responses while being mindful of supporting self-regulation.  When your speller is at 85-90% accuracy with minimal prompting, call a practitioner for a consultation if you aren’t seeing one regularly.
  5. PRESUME COMPETENCE.  Do it. Model it.  Teach others. The first most positive changes in spellers are a result of the people around them making this shift with sincerity.  If you’ve gotten this far and haven’t heard this term before, please click this link and search the I-ASC website for other blogs, lessons, and articles about this concept that is fundamental to our work.
  6. PRACTICE!  Weekly S2C sessions with a practitioner do not make up for not practicing at home if your speller is in the Acquisition Stages.  Think of spelling as learning a new language.  If you wish to move to Japan in a year and want to learn to speak Japanese, how much will one 45-minute weekly class help you if you don’t practice throughout the week?  You won’t be ready for that move.  Prove to your speller that their communication and autonomy, plus the new relationship you are building, is worth your time and energy.
  7. USE PREPARED LESSONS, AND BE PREPARED!  Using any random information to practice spelling is not ideal.  Prepared lessons are designed to be used in conjunction with the spelling methodology.  They are used for optimal results for the Speller.  They also make the communication partner’s life a lot easier. Beginner CRPs should not be focusing their practice sessions on picking out keywords and questions on the fly while they read and teach.  They should be giving their full attention to teaching the content, coaching their Spellers’ motor for accuracy, and managing dysregulation.  Until you are transitioning from the Acquisition stages to Application for an open speller, try to stick to prepared lessons.   It’s better for everyone!

Those are things I felt compelled to share today.  There is more advice out there, with blogs and videos from spellers, parents, and practitioners.  Before I sign off, I will remind you of two things:

  • Listen to Nonspeakers!  They share their experience and wisdom in many forms.  Gregory Tino, the winner of I-ASC’s inaugural “Board Blazer Award”,  wrote a blog with his top ten list of advice for new spellers and their communication partners.  On a slightly different note, our multi-talented friend Isaiah Grewal wrote an S2C lesson setting out his expert advice to new communication partners that can be purchased on the Spellers Learn website (a great place to find affordable and interesting lessons, by the way). These are just two examples of Spellers using their gifts to move new communication partnerships forward; and finally,
  • Watch out for I-ASC’s WEBINARS – many of them are suited to beginner speller families.  Most of them were created with new families in mind and we have received such positive feedback on them.  And, like all of I-ASC’s resources for families – they’re FREE!

Thanks for reading – keep up the good work and keep the faith!

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, trainingGiorgena Sarantopoulos is mom to two quiet artists, as well as being an S2C Practitioner and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre.

 

The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C)with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

Posted By on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021 in Advocacy,Autism,Community,Education,Families,S2C,Spelling to Communicate

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