I recently read an article written by C. Jorgensen (2005) where she proposes a new paradigm in the area of disability and competence.  She found that often times if service providers weren’t sure what a student was capable of, it was presumed that the student could not (and never would be able to) learn to communicate.  In the article, Jorgensen advocates that setting high expectations should be the basis for decision making regarding educational programming.  In addition, Jorgensen stated that decisions made based on high expectations will lead to a higher quality of life in both school and beyond.

What if we lived in a world where high expectations were set for all students with significant disabilities?  What if every classroom created a positive communication environment?  What if communication partners spent more time working on their own communication skills so that they could better support students with complex communication needs (CCN)?  What if we were committed to ensure that parents and educators worked together towards a common goal; building communication and learning success for students with significant disabilities?

I’ve worked with many children with significant communication disabilities over the past 16 years.  In my experience, children with school teams and families who have high expectations and support communication and learning in all environments, always succeeded more than those children who with limited or no expectations put upon them.  Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) doesn’t just work by itself.  It requires direct teaching, opportunity, and expectations. When high expectations are set, literacy is addressed and social skills are taught. Children have many, many opportunities to practice skills in a safe and supportive environment.

I’ve always tried to have great expectations for every child (even if everyone else thought I was nuts).  I go into every situation assuming that the child is brilliant.  Research tells us that the success of a communication interaction for individuals with complex communication needs is often dependent on the skills of the communication partner (Light and Binger, 2007; Drager, et al, 2006; Bruno and Trembatth, 2006).  With this in mind, I always hold myself responsible for the learning and success of my students.  If things don’t work…I look to myself and the environment to figure out why it’s not working (never the student or device).

I once met a young man who had limited expectations placed on him.  No one expected him to learn to read. No one expected him to sit during classroom activities.  No one expected him to be potty trained.  No one expected him to ever do much of anything.  Once this little guy had access to a school team who placed expectations on all students, tools he needed in order to be a good communicator and learning opportunities, he began to soak things up like a sponge.  I am happy to report that this young man is now reading at grade level and is an effective user of an augmentative communication system.

Lesson learned…Create great expectations and they will learn.

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