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Takeaways from the 9th Annual #TalkingAAC Conference

Attending a conference in an area of interest is always an eye opening experience. New ideas, new materials. An inside look at what others are doing in the field. The Ninth Annual Talking AAC Conference was nothing short of just that. I have always come from the thought that you learn best from those that do. So when Mateo, an AAC user, and Tina, his mother, opened the conference with their first hand experiences, I was already all in. Mateo spent his time talking about his interests (a major Disney fan), and how outgoing he is. Tina spent hers advocating for AAC users and to trust the process. “I will always be his (Mateo’s) ally and advocate, I will never be his voice,” she said as she closed out the opening keynote.

I spent the next two days learning from individuals across the field. SLP’s from California who presented on their district’s process for AAC evaluations and beyond. A faculty member from the State University of New York, who presented on the wide variety of tech options available for individuals with severe physical challenges. A professor from Appalachian State University, and author of every SLPs favorite book, Comprehensive Literacy For All, David Koppenhaver. But seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, add it to your wishlist ASAP. The conference closed with Karanveer, a charismatic young man living with cerebral palsy who uses a dynamic eye gaze system to communicate. He stressed the importance of presuming competence, never giving up and always advocating for our complex communicators. Inspiring doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I was lucky enough to touch base with several SLPs, parents and more that Communication is Key AAC provided with scholarships to attend the conference. We surveyed their experiences and found numerous common threads including:

The most valuable part of the conference:

  • The opportunity to network

  • Learning about AAC implementation at other schools/districts

  • Meeting other AAC parents and users

  • The opportunity to listen and learn

Their favorite sessions:

  • Keynote speakers

  • Getting to the Core of Communication

  • Supporting Effective Writing in Inclusive Environments

  • My Students are Engaged and Interested! Now How Do I Teach Reading Comprehension?

A takeaway from the keynote speakers:

  • Never underestimate or doubt AAC Users; they are as capable as any other student

  • Nothing about us without us - a mantra heard numerous times throughout the conference.

  • Don't shy away from engaging in conversation with an individual with a communication device!

  • It was a very hopeful talk for me to see Mateo and his passionate ability to communicate and connect with others with his Novachat - It opened my eyes to the possibilities in my child's future.

So I will end with this: Always presume competence. An AAC user is not less because they express their needs and wants with the assistance of a device. They are as capable as any other individual. Always strive to be an advocate, and never strive to be their voice. Until next time..

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