On May 15, I had the honor of being the “Guest Author” in my elementary school. Since my recently published children’s book, “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname),” is about a fourth grade girl who has significant disabilities, and since the Guest Author Day was smack in the middle of “May is Better Hearing and Speech Month,” I saw this as an excellent opportunity to educate the students about disability awareness in general, and communication disorders in particular. I did three assemblies for the students, grades K-5. Each started with a cast of 5th grade students, the principal, and several teachers taking the roles of the characters in the book in a Reader’s Theater presentation of the story (available as a free download on www.patmervine.com). The girl who played Katie sat in a wheelchair, wore Katie’s trademark bandana, and used a Dynavox to speak her lines. The cast, seated on the edge of the stage, read their parts while I showed the book illustrations on the big screen behind them. This presentation was a big hit with all of the students. Following the Reader’s Theater, I talked about how I became an author and an SLP, both professions stemming from a love of communication in all forms, beginning with an early interest in reading and writing. Then I did a segment on Disability Etiquette, (video available onwww.patmervine.com, PowerPoint available on TeachersPayTeachers.com), and opened the floor to questions. And what questions the students had! Although I have been in the building for 5 years, many students didn’t really know what “the speech teacher” does in that little room next to the nurse’s office. Some expressed surprise that there are actually children and adults who can’t talk, and all were fascinated to learn more about augmentative communication devices and sign language. Grades 1-4 returned to their classrooms to review disability etiquette, work on a communication word search (available free on www.patmervine.com), and discuss aspects of the story using the Discussion Guide (also free on www.patmervine.com). One third grade class even came up with positive nicknames for themselves.
Following the assembly for the 4th and 5th grades, the fifth grade students counted off by 4’s and split up into 4 different classrooms to take part in very special hands-on experiences with assistive technology. I am part of the Bucks County (PA) Intermediate Unit Assistive Technology Team. My colleagues on the team set up demonstrations in the four classrooms, each with a different focus. In room #1, our audiologist and a teacher of the Deaf taught the students about how the ear works, hearing conservation, sign language, and hearing technology, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and C-Print. In room #2, two vision therapists gave a presentation on the eye, had students try on glasses that simulate various visual impairments, gave students experience in orientation and mobility, and taught them about Braille, including how they teach 5-year-olds to read Braille using tennis balls in a 6-cup muffin tin! Room #3 was devoted to high-tech solutions for computer access, writing, and environmental controls for people who have physical disabilities. Students were able to operate computers with eye-gaze, a Head Mouse, and glasses adapted with an infrared beam. In room #4, my SLP/AT colleagues gave a brief overview of AAC devices and switches. Then, three fifth grade boys (2 with Down Syndrome) from another school, who use iPads and ProLoQuo2Go to communicate, engaged in a lively Q & A with the 5th graders in that room. The students and teacher were amazed at how adept the boys are with their iPads, and how much their personalities came through, just because they had a way to communicate. At the end of this session, the students were able to try communicating with each other on a variety of communication boards and low- and high-tech AAC devices.
When the 45-minute sessions ended, the students returned to their homerooms to share what they had learned with their classmates. The teachers reported that they had never seen such an enthusiastic exchange of questions and information. Each student filled out a reflection page, with three questions. Here are just a few of their responses:
“WOW! I never knew ….”
- How hard it could be to say one word.
- That people can damage their nerve hairs by having the radio on a little loud.
- Q-tips to clean out your ears are actually bad for you.
- That vision loss could create such a huge impact.
- That some kids can’t move at all.
- That there are so many ways to communicate.
- That people with disabilities could do so much.
The next time I meet a person who has a disability, I will:
- Ask a question and wait for an answer.
- Make them feel comfortable and try to communicate with them.
- Let them be more independent unless they ask for assistance. Then I will help.
- Definitely treat them better and with more respect!
- Try my best to make them feel welcome and included!
The most important thing I learned from Guest Author Day:
- Is to treat people with disabilities the way you want to be treated.
- Everyone is different and it’s good to respect that.
- If someone is disabled but they have something that does it for them, they are not really disabled anymore.
- It must be so hard and frustrating to not be able to communicate, but we can help people who can’t.
- People with disabilities are just like us.
Judging the feedback from all of the teachers and children in my school, I’d say our celebration of BHSM made quite an impact, one which I hope will last a lifetime.