#102: Getting Started with AAC & Literacy

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In this episode, I sit down with SLP Venita Litvack and discuss how to get started with AAC and literacy.

This field goes even deeper than the average speech pathology education, using a range of techniques to bring communication and literacy tools to folks with significant disabilities.

It’s important, it’s challenging, and it’s rewarding!

This episode is a great starting point if you’ve been looking to dig deeper in toe AAC! And Venita shares some amazing (and some FREE) resources to support us in teaching those whose functional literacy skills may not be served by general literacy programming in schools.

In the following weeks, she will share a powerful framework for comprehensive emergent literacy.

What might be the most inspiring thing about Venita is her commitment to the Literacy Bill of Rights — that all persons, regardless of the extent or severity of their disabilities, have the right to use print. 👏

I’m so excited to review this top with Vinta and can’t wait to dive in for more!

Stay tuned for more on this topic this month!

Let’s get to it!

Key Takeaways + Topics Covered

– Venita’s background and some AAC preliminary reading
– RAAP framework (read, ask, answer, prompt)
– Literacy Bill of Rights – every learner has the right to this education!

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

First Bite podcast interview: “Speechie Side Up” Presents AAC – Venita Litvack, MA, CCC-SLP
Speechie Side Up
@speechiesideup on Instagram
Ten Ways to Boost your Knowledge of AAC
Core Calendar Club Facebook group
Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write
Literacy Bill of Rights

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Marisha: Hello there, and welcome to the SLP Now Podcast, where we share practical therapy tips and ideas for busy speech language pathologists. Grab your favorite beverage and sit back as we dive into this week's episode. Hello there, and welcome to the SLP Now Podcast. I am so excited to introduce today's guest, Venita Litvack. She is a speech language pathologist currently serving as a full-time augmentative and alternative communication and assistive technology consultant for public schools in Florida. So she has a passion for using AAC, AT, and literacy to support individuals with complex communication needs, autism, and other disabilities.

Marisha: Venita has also delivered poster presentations in several topics related to AAC at ASHA. She also coauthored two articles published in the ASHA Leader, as well as the Lou Knows What to Do book series published by Boys Town Press. She's also an amazing fellow podcaster and blogger at Speechie Side Up, and just an all around rockstar SLP and person. So today, we're going to be breaking down all things AAC and literacy. This is like AAC 102, maybe 201. So before we dive into all of the things, I just wanted to give a really quick recap of some other amazing resources that Venita has shared. Her Speechie Side Up Podcast is amazing. First of all, if you haven't subscribed yet, definitely do that.

Marisha: She has several episodes on AAC. So I will link to those in the show notes at slpnow.com/42. And then she also did a podcast interview with my colleague and fellow podcaster in the SpeechTherapyPD network for Michelle Dawson's First Bite, and she has a really great crash course on AAC there as well. And then she has an absolutely amazing blog post with some tips to help you start navigating AAC, if it's new to you. So it's called Ten Ways to Boost Your Knowledge in the Area of AAC. And so I'll link to all of those resources in the show notes, in case you're just trying to start navigating AAC because I think that would be an amazing supplement to all of the tips and tricks that we're sharing here today. That was a little bit of a longer intro. But hello, Venita.

Venita Litvack: Hi, Marisha. thank you so much. That was such a nice intro. And I think you covered a big part of where I would recommend people get started before they dive into a topic like this with AAC and literacy, because this is definitely going to be a very comprehensive and dense topic, but I'm really excited to chat with you about it.

Marisha: Yeah. I have been nerding out. We've been going back and forth, and I cannot wait to hear from you on this topic. As you guys know, I am a huge advocate of using literacy in therapy. And a lot of you have been asking about how to use this with students who use AAC. So I just cannot wait for us to break this down, and you're the perfect person for it.

Venita Litvack: Oh, yay. Well, I'm excited that we were able to combine both of our interests.

Marisha: I know, that is so amazing. And I think we're going to have a blast, or I know we are. And then I'm curious, is there anything else that you'd like to highlight in terms of places to get started, if there's anything in particular that really stands out to you from your blog posts? Or do you think that's a good enough place to start at this point?

Venita Litvack: I think you mentioned some really great resources. One other one that I might recommend is the Core Calendar Club Group on Facebook that I am doing with Anne Page from Beautiful Speech Life and Kristen Powell from the Daily Dose of Speech. It's a year long AAC challenge where we provide you with weekly resources for a specific core word. And then we also present discussion topics weekly, where people share their favorite AAC tradings, the troubles that they have with AAC and how they're addressing them. We have 1,100 people in that group, and it's just a really great supportive group. We have a goal in mind, which is to increase your AAC knowledge. So it's not just going in there and asking questions whenever they come up, but structured format for learning more about AAC across the school year.

Marisha: That is so amazing. And that's a free group?

Venita Litvack: It's free. Yep.

Marisha: Oh, my gosh. That's so valuable. That is amazing, especially if you're really wanting to tackle AAC in your practice as a listener. And just having these resources, plus the Facebook group to just get continued inspiration, I mean, that's amazing. I'm so glad that you guys are doing that. So helpful.

Venita Litvack: Thanks. It's a lot of fun.

Marisha: Oh, yeah. And I will definitely link to that group as well in the show notes, if you can't find it with a quick search. So I think we are ready to dive in. So let's just get straight to the strategies. So let's start with some evidence-based strategies for teaching literacy to children who use AAC. I've heard you talk about, and it's R-A-A-P. I forget how you say that acronym. Is it RAAP?

Venita Litvack: It is. Yep.

Marisha: Okay. I know you've shared a lot of other strategies as well, but it'd be amazing just to get an overview of some of the ones that you found in your research and just help break that down for us a little more.

Venita Litvack: Sure. Yeah. I think this is a really important topic and a great starting point. I will definitely reference the RAAP strategy as we get into specific activities that you can use. So in the timeframe from when you first asked to an interview and we decided that the topic would be literacy, this amazing book came out. And as soon as I saw it, I was like, "I have to get that." And this book has taken the AAC world by storm. Everybody's getting it. And it's called Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver. I hope I'm saying that right. And it's amazing. I mean, they have just synthesized all of the research on teaching individuals with significant disabilities to read and write.

Venita Litvack: And their basic premise is that all students, no matter how severe their disabilities, can learn to read and write, and they provide a framework for that. So I'd like to start with providing the Literacy Bill of Rights, because I think that that's really important for people to keep in mind when they're working with students who use AAC, and keeping in the back of their mind maybe it doesn't seem like they could learn to read and write at this point, but here are their rights that they're entitled to. So I'll briefly summarize these, and these were outlined by Yoder, Erickson and Koppenhaver back in 1997. So number one is that all students have the right to the opportunity to learn to read and write. All students have the right to accessible, clear, meaningful, culturally and linguistically appropriate texts at all time.

Venita Litvack: All students have the right to interact with others while reading, writing, or listening to texts. All students have the right to life choices made available through reading and writing competencies. All students have the right to lifelong educational opportunities incorporating literacy instruction and use. All students have the right to teachers and other service providers who are knowledgeable about literacy instruction methods and principles. And I think that's really important for us to keep in mind. And there's two more. All students have the right to learn in environments that provide varied models of print use, which we're going to outline later today. And then all students have the right to learn in environments that maintain the expectations and attitudes that all individuals are literacy learners. And I love that last right because I think it's so important that attitude makes a huge difference.

Venita Litvack: And when we presume or assume that the child has the ability to grow and has the ability to learn and read and write, then we're already setting them up for success. I know that was a lot. And I definitely encourage anybody who has not seen that Literacy Bill of Rights to go look at the full version because that was an overview, even though it may have not seem like it. But I like starting there because I think it's important. Then the next thing, this book, the Comprehensive Literacy for All that I told you about earlier, they share in there that when you are starting with literacy instruction for students who use AAC or any individual who uses AAC, you need to determine where you're going to start and what the student needs.

Venita Litvack: Do they need comprehensive emergent literacy instruction only? Do they need conventional instruction only? Or do they need a combination of both? And that's really for a group-based setting. And the way that they tell you to determine that is by asking four questions. The first question is, does the student identify most of the letters of the alphabet most of the time? The second question is, does the student engage and interact during shared reading? The third question is, does the student have a means of communication and interaction? And then number four, does the student understand that print has meaning? So if you answer no to just one or any more of those questions, then you should start with comprehensive emergent interventions.

Venita Litvack: If you're able to answer yes to all four of those questions, then you would start with comprehensive conventional interventions. So for today's purpose, I'm going to be sharing mostly about emergent interventions because according to Janice Light, she said, "Currently, the majority of individuals who require AAC do not have functional literacy skills." And I heard a quote recently where something around 80% of individuals who use AAC or non-speaking verbally are at the emergent literacy level. I tried looking for the research reference prior to this interview, but I wasn't able to find it. So I did quote Janice Light instead. But I think that's really important. And I'll stop here, in case there's anything you wanted to say about those.

Marisha: That is such a helpful overview. I'm just so excited to keep diving into all the other things. Thanks for listening to the SLP Now Podcast. This podcast is part of a course offered for continuing education through SpeechTherapyPD. So yes, you can earn ASHA CEUs for listening to this podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your SLP friends. And don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episode sent directly to you. See you next time.



Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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