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Jake is a 15-year-old high school student who has been participating in the model demonstration project since 2003. Since the beginning, Jake’s mother and home care providers have played a critical role in helping him realize success. When the project began in 2003, Jake had no formal means of communication, and his school program focused largely on developing functional skills. Our efforts began with identifying a means of communication and a tool for writing.

Late Spring 2004

We began exploring light-tech communication systems.  Our first efforts involved a 4-location flip chart.  In this video, you see Jake using a combination of partner assisted scanning and eye-pointing to make choices.  This is the first time Jake and his mom have tried this system.  Success on day 1!

Watching Jake use the 4-location flip chart with eye-pointing helped us evaluate his vision and his understanding of symbols. It became clear to us that he was able to visually distinguish between symbols in the Mayer Johnson Boardmaker Sign Language Symbol library.

Summer 2004

While we continued to explore light-tech solutions, we started exploring switch access.  Jake had years of trials with single switches without much success.  Efforts with 2-switch step scanning proved much more successful for him. He uses his arm to move the highlighter from one item to the next and his knee to select desired options. In this video, Jake is having fun interacting with the members of his family … including the dogs.

By the fall of 2004, it was evident that 2-switch step scanning was going to provide Jake with an important way to interact with technology and to control partner-assisted scanning interactions.  Based  upon our understanding of Jake’s vision and his use of 2-switch scanning we tried a number of computer-based options for accessing the alphabet and writing.  In the end, a light-tech solution provided the best supports for Jake in his early efforts to write.

Late Winter 2005

The best way for Jake to access the alphabet turned out to be a light-tech flip chart.  Using this alternative pencil, Jake could indicate which letters his partner should write for him.  Jake used his arm to access the mover switch which lit a green light indicating that his partner should move to the next letter.  When his partner pointed to a desired letter, Jake used his knee to access the picker switch which lit a red light indicated that his partner should write that letter for him.

Throughout the year, Jake engaged in self-selected writing using the alphabet flip chart at home.  He selected the topics for his writing and wrote in a journal or wrote notes to family and friends. The flip chart displays the letters of the alphabet in groups of 4 or 6 and offers simple editing commands such as, space, new word, and delete.

In all of the following writing samples, facilitators always began the writing activity by supporting Jake in selecting a writing topic. Choices were presented to Jake via photographs, signs, and his remnant book. The remnant book was frequently his favorite as it documented the events of his life, big and small. Remnant books are typically used to set a topic for communication (Beukelman & Miranda, 2005), and are developed by collecting items from the activities and events Jake experiences each day.  For example, Jake’s remnant book includes ticket stubs from a movie he saw with his brother, a plastic bag with a dead bug he found, a picture cut from the box of a game, and so on.  Jake selected a topic from the book by directing the facilitator to “go to the next page” using the switch by his arm and stop on the desired topic using the switch by his leg to say, “that’s the one I want.”

Home Journal Entry:  June, 2004

Topic:  Going to the Movies


Home Journal Entry:  June, 2004

Topic:  The Bug that Ruled Mom’s Kitchen


Working with Jake to help him select a topic is an important part of the writing process for him. Beyond making it clear that we write for a purpose, setting a topic provides us with important information that supports our efforts to interpret his writing efforts.  Since Jake cannot tell us what he has written, knowledge of the topic helps us carefully consider the letters Jake selects and the words he attempts to spell. When we know the topic, we are able to attribute meaning to his writing attempts much more successfully.

Jake’s early writing samples reflect his exploration of working with the full alphabet and using the alternative pencil, the alphabet flip chart.  While his initial attempts appear random, consistent and meaningful opportunities to write, lead to change over time.
Over time, Jake’s writing began to show evidence of his increasing understanding of print.  For example, in the following note to Gretchen, Jake writes the first and last letter of his name (albeit in the wrong order) and the letter g, for Gretchen.  Since Gretchen’s name sign is the finger spelling version of a g moved from left to right across the forehead, it isn’t surprising the Jake would know this initial letter.


August 2005

In other samples, we see more evidence of first letter knowledge.  While we can’t know with certainty that Jake intended to write the words we believe he was writing, he does eagerly confirm our inquiries one some occasions and tell us no on others.  For example, in this entry Jake wrote about a new friend named Molly.  When asked, he confirmed that he was attempting to write his own name, jk, and Molly’s name, m.

Home Journal Entry:  August, 2005

Topic:  Going to Greensboro


September 2005

On another occasion, he wrote about working with a psychologist, Dr. M. When asked, he confirmed that he was writing about himself, j, the doctor, m, and working very hard, www.

Home Journal Entry:  September, 2005

Topic:  Going to the Doctor’s


September 2005

With time, Jake continued to show evidence of more deliberate efforts to select particular letters in his writing.  In this sample, he chose to write about his mother who was away for two weeks. This was a very important topic for Jake as he has never been separated from his Mom long periods of time.  Again, he confirmed his attempts to write his name more than once “jkkk,” and “jjjjk.”  He also confirmed that he was writing about his mom, mmmmuuuu.

Home Journal Entry:  September, 2005

Topic:  Mom Being Gone for 2 Weeks


December 2005

Within a few months of beginning to represent multiple words using initial letters, Jake begins to insert spaces in his writing.  He also begins to include words that are spelled correctly, dad.
Over time, Jake’s writing offers useful, concrete evidence of his developing understandings of print.  For students who are unable to use gestures (pointing to individual words on the page), words (labeling letters and words), and other behaviors to communicate their understandings of print, writing is essential. The alphabet flip chart provided Jake with an alternative pencil that made writing every day a possibility.

Home Journal Entry:  December, 2005

Topic:  My New Remote Control Dinosaur

ac dad jk kk m m r r rs u u uwz
begh jj j m vv w

Check back for updates on Jake’s continued progress over time.