AAC and the Environment

Published: 19/04/2019 15:40

by Carly Hynes

Carly Hynes is a special needs teacher at Sanfield Park, a secondary school in Liverpool, UK. She has been working with pupils with complex communication needs and use AAC since May 2015. She is also a member of the Liverpool CAAT team. Carly will be presenting at the Angelman Syndrome ASSERT conference in the UK in October.

I am a passionate eco-warrior. I turn lights off, I pick rubbish out of the wrong bins and sort it without looking, I am interrupted throughout my daily life, both home and school with “Carly, which bin does this go in?”, it’s just what happens.

In school, we watch the news daily and discuss what is going on in the world, good, bad or indifferent. In recent years, we have also taken to watching programmes like Blue Planet 2 and Dynasties. I want the young people I teach to be able to interact with everyone in the world around them, that means watching TV shows everyone is talking about. When we watch the news I often pause and ask “who is this?” “what do they do?” there is a prominent person who they get right every time, and that is Sir David Attenborough. This is absolutely through indoctrination! And I couldn’t be more proud.

I currently have an animal loving class, which is fortunate, as they don’t really have a choice! 2 years ago Blue Planet 2 aired. It was on a Sunday evening and we watched a 10 minute segment each day throughout the rest of the week. There is something magical about watching animals with children, especially wild animals, or ocean animals that many of us could never hope to see without shows like this. They say never work with animals or children, I work with both daily and make it work!

We recently started a “Future Food Challenge” whereby we have to create a closed circle, self-sufficient and sustainable way of creating our own food in the classroom using aquaponics. Now then, here comes the link to AAC. Not for one minute did I think there would be a symbol for aquaponics, there isn’t, no surprise there, it is so specialised. “I can google a photo and pop that onto all of the devices, no worries” I thought. This then put a little worm in my brain. All this preaching I am doing, it must be working, right? All of these shows we are watching, all these turtles with straws up their noses and seals with rings around their necks, how are the children able to communicate they understand that and the wider implications? How does this mean they can go about their daily lives making decisions and influencing others to make better choices? They can absolutely shake their head in disgust and say “bad”, “seal die”, “feel sad”, but if all they can communicate is what is happening in the here and now and describe what they are seeing and not talk about the actual problems of the waste stream, how the plastic bag got into the ocean in the first place and use technically correct terminology, how are they ever going to influence the world they live in? They are the future after all.

I started frantically searching for symbols on Dylan’s device, no plastic pollution, single use, habitat loss. Sir David Attenborough (AKA God) said recently at the launch of the new Netflix series Our Planet, we only have 20 years to make a difference otherwise we are all doomed, is this not a current affair we should be empowering our children to talk about? If my pupils can’t tell their parents to stop using that because of micro plastics, or tell them to look out for palm oil in products when they do the weekly shop, what future are we preparing them for?

As a core word advocate, these symbols are absolutely noun based, however, my blue sky perpetual optimistic mind is thinking, imagine the power of one of my children asking where there food has come from, because they have the words; sustainable, biodiversity, aquaponics, food waste and veganuary, all of which would be pretty difficult to describe, even to the most proficient AAC user. How much of a powerful message would that put across to some unsuspecting waiter? Would that make people stop in their tracks and think about their lifestyle choices? Can these children be the generation which facilitate change? They sure as hell can’t if they haven’t got the right vocab to knock people’s socks off!

And so, I started a list. It only took about 24 hours. I enlisted the help of a few other earth loving friends and we sent the list off to Tina. Here are the symbols. I particularly love fatberg and marine plastics.

I do not anticipate using any of these symbols in a traditional teaching, I stand at the front and teach you manner, but we do talk about environmental content a lot throughout our days. It merely allows our AAC users to be on equal footing with the rest of society, should they wish to talk about these environmental issues, or not, that is their choice.

These symbols are now available to download and I would urge you to think about including this type of vocabulary into your lessons, discussions and every day life. I would personally like to thank Boardmaker for seeing this as important and taking the time to create them and would urge anyone who has an additions to contact me via the email below, as I am already starting the second list! (sorry symbol creators!)

Earth Day is 22nd April, I will be doing a litter pick and releasing rescued and rehabilitated hedgehogs whilst being really grateful of what I can communicate about the world, and now, that the children in my class can as well. What will you being doing to celebrate?

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