Seeing the BIG picture in AAC and beyond

I worked with a class of second graders each morning. I sat at a kidney bean shaped table as groups of six students rotated through their centers. My job was to help them sort sets of words by beginning sounds. We used safety scissors to cut out word strips and then glued them to heavy, colored paper.

This group was focused and finished before our activity time was up.

No problem, it was part of my job to keep the kids learning and engaged so I asked them to turn their paper over and write a 7-Up sentence (a sentence containing at least seven words) about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Five of the six were thrilled and feverishly started sounding out words, counting on their fingers, and jotting down phrases in second-grade phonetics.

But one little boy just glared at me. He was always closed and brooding. He rarely spoke and didn’t like to participate as part of the group. He usually refused to do any assignment he was given. I waited intently to see what he would do.

Finally, he grabbed his pencil and asked me, under his breath, how to spell a couple of words. Pretty quick I saw his sentence take shape. It said:

“Writing a sentence about when I grow up is dumb.”

I knew he was trying to get a rise out of me; I knew he intended to be a bit defiant.

But I was thrilled.

He had done almost exactly what I hoped he would do.

No, I wasn’t hoping he would put together a passive-aggressive passage letting me know about his annoyance with the assignment. But I WAS hoping he (and the other cutie pies around him) would use language to express themselves and begin to develop a relationship with words.

And that’s just what he did. He even used more than the requested seven words to do it.

I was so proud I nearly cried.

It is easy for us as parents, educators, and therapists (and humans in general) to get so caught up in the task at hand -- the “what” we want to see accomplished -- that we accidentally overlook the “why” we are doing what we are doing.

My “why” on this morning wasn’t really to find out what these littles wanted to do with their lives (although I do care deeply about them and I hope they are successful in their futures), it was more about making a connection to language.

And even though the result wasn’t perfect, at least this time, I could still see a glimpse the big picture.

This time I could see how what this spirited boy had accomplished exactly the goal I had hoped for him, even if his way of doing it was a little bit unconventional.

It is often easy for us to get so involved in the muddle of moments that we forget to look at that big picture. Sometimes we get caught up in the here and now and fail to see the miles of progress stretching behind us.

Often, the world of speech (and maybe AAC in particular) feels like it inches forward at a snail’s pace. But a tiny success stretched taut over a large expanse of time is STILL a success.

Every success matters. Every forward step, no matter how small, counts. It’s about the direction we’re heading, not just the distance we’ve traveled in a certain amount of time.

Let’s remember to see the small successes when they do come, because they will come (even if they are few and far between). Let’s also remember to look back from time to time to see the growth that has happened and the picture we are creating for the future.

Let’s try to be big picture people, even as we are working within the moments.