Welcome to my project updates!

Thanks for expressing an interest in my research. These termly updates give a short summary of activities and events surrounding my work on children’s communication and assistive technology.

Over the course of 2021, I will be sharing snippets from my research. I hope these are helpful for classroom and therapy practice. I will also be sharing ideas for how assistive communication technologies might be improved to reflect some of the findings from my recent PhD

If you are interested in discussing any of these ideas, please get in touch! I can be contacted here. Have a restful and safe Easter break! –Seray.

Bite-sized videos

I’m excited to share the first in a series of short videos designed as practitioner resources. These illustrate some of my design insights for supporting interactions that involve people and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technologies.

In this first video, I explore three possibilities for building on the design of AAC technologies. The focus is on:

  • Scaffolding learning in flexible ways
  • Regulating privacy through AAC
  • Offering lightweight ways for children to signal misunderstandings.

The second bite size video will focus on strategies for supporting interaction in the classroom. Looking forward to sharing this next term!

Activities and events

  • Practice sharing both within and beyond academia is a large focus of this project. In June 2020, I co-organised an academic workshop at the ACM Interaction Design and Children conference, on ‘What we learn when designing with marginalised children’. A summary of discussions from the workshop can be found here.
  • In December 2020, I presented a talk at the Multimodality talks series held across UCL, University of Leeds and the University of Stockholm. The talk was titled: Communication and non speaking children with physical disabilities: The issue of recognition.
  • In February 2020, I attended the AAC journal club for SLTs in the UK. A summary of the discussion can be found in my blog post on AAC research and practice.
  • Later in February 2020, I was invited to give a talk on the UCL Multimodal communication MA module which generated great discussions on AAC for students of applied linguistics!
  • I’m delighted that my paper was accepted at the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication conference. The presentation will focus on a slice of my research that considers how multimodal communication theory can inform the study of communication. The conference is scheduled to take place in August 2022 (postponed owing to pandemic). More details to follow next term!
  • The Communication Matters conference call for participation is out! I’m looking forward to hearing from the AAC community at the virtual conference in September this year and hoping to contribute as well!

If this newsletter has been forwarded on, you can sign up to these updates via this link

AAC research and practice

Stake of newspapers tied with rope

Last week I was grateful to be invited by the AAC journal club team to host a session which asked: What has changed with AAC technology and what next?

The AAC journal club is a lively forum where speech and language therapists come together to discuss chosen papers in the context of clinical work. In past years, therapists have informally met for discussions and after work drinks in some of the lovely pubs of Camden, London. In its online edition, attendees participated from all over the UK.

For the discussion, I chose four papers that have separately considered some of the complexities around adopting AAC technologies within people’s conversations and ultimately, within their lives.

Waller, A (2018) Telling tales: Unlocking the potential of AAC technologies. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, March/April 2019, Vol 54:2 159-169 doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12449

Smith, M.M. & Murray, J. (2011) Parachute without a ripcord: The skydive of communication interaction. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 27:4, 292-303, doi: 10.3109/07434618.2011.630022

Light, J., McNaughton, D., Beukelman, D., Fager, S.K., Fried-Oken, M., Jakobs, T., & Jakobs, E. (2019) Challenges and opportunities in augmentative and alternative communication: Research and technology development to enhance communication and participation for individuals with complex communication needs, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 35:1, 1-12, DOI: 10.1080/07434618.2018.1556732

Ibrahim, S., Vasalou, A., Clarke, M. (2018) Design opportunities for AAC and children with severe speech and physical impairments. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 227:1-227:13. CHI ’18. New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173801.*

*Note: Yes, this last one may appear like a shameless plug, but I was invited to talk about my paper and chose the other three articles as they offered related discussion points.

The discussions were incredibly stimulating and the best part for me was hearing from colleagues about their experiences of negotiating expectations about what communication therapy can and should entail. Some of the key take home from our discussions are summarised below. These are mainly reflections from how the discussions related to my own clinical practice.

  • In the past, I’ve spent a scandalous amount of time trying to operationally manage children’s AAC technologies (software updates, resolving tech issues, personalising vocabulary and symbol sets, reorganising screen layouts for access issues etc). Yes, these aspects are also a part of it, but they also take away from the valuable time that is needed to plan useful interventions that reflect the complexities of children’s lives.
  • Prioritising linguistic goals is undoubtedly important for supporting access to inclusion, but there is a balance to be struck. There are many other interactional and technological aspects that are in desperate need of attention.
  • Speech therapy interventions should prioritise autonomy. This is no different if working with very young children or adults. Choosing to focus on formal teaching contexts alone means that young adults leaving educational settings quickly find themselves with a limited set of resources that were context dependent from years gone by. Therapists have a key role in supporting people who use AAC to develop strategies and tools that advance agency to communicate with different people in different places.

Huge thank you to Clare Parsons, Ruth Carr and Samia Malik for coordinating the event and to all the SLTs who attended the session. I really enjoyed the discussion!

So you’re thinking of academia? – An open letter to my fellow allied health professionals

Photo of green grass by Gravitylicious.com from Pexels

As the UK healthcare system becomes evermore fraught with cutbacks in it’s decade of austerity, many allied healthcare professionals are choosing to side-step into academia. When I first became interested in research, my aim was not to leave the NHS totally, but to find a better balance in doing things that I enjoyed more in my working day. Naively, what I did not anticipate was that the academie would be equally taxing in so many different ways.

In writing about my experiences, I hope to share some of the things that I wish I had known more about or at least appreciated. I hope others might find these reflections helpful. I will try my best to reflect without rose tinted glasses but acknowledge that the distance away from clinical work has probably made me less jaded over time.

Things that keep you awake at night
There are many things in my NHS job that I did not even imagine I would miss or long for. Juggling swelling caseloads where everything is urgent; managing complex clinical decision-making; mediating relationships between fraught services, and many other horrors to name a few. I was mostly aware of wanting to step away from paper-pushing practices as the next new government brought in new NHS agendas for our clinical, IT and operational processes. These things I knew I would not miss. However those complex cases and difficult conditions were the glue that brought team members together. Knowing that I needed to work closely with every other member of my team: the physio assistant, the physio, the OT, the school nurse, the teacher, the dietician, the paediatrician, the list goes on. Each of these members all brought with them different skill sets and flavours, that made the job interesting and colourful each time a new challenge arose.

All the beautiful things
Working in community settings meant being embedded in people’s lives. Having the luxury of being in the same school or health centre for most days of the week meant that decisions did not always have to be instant or reactive. Instead, drawing on knowledge of what had happened before, on people’s local values and the local supports that I had access to, offered opportunities for making positive changes in people’s lives. Being in a stable place over time was the ultimate antidote to sudden action as myself, other colleagues, families and children were all able to regain some element of control in situations where health conditions and resources were changing constantly.
Separately, I’ll also never underestimate the privilege of how much time I was able to spend with the children and families in their home settings. Unlike research fieldwork, the door is (likely) always open. Seeing a child more frequently than they see their grandma or cousins means that families are both desperate for your support and have faith in what you are doing. Experiencing this meant being closer to people and empathising with where they are coming from. Whilst, of course, I’ve always tried to keep my work and personal lives separate, with this closeness, also comes grief. I regularly think about the 14 children on my caseload who have sadly died over the years and wonder what it must be like for their families and friends as time passes too.

Fresh ideas, exciting paths
Clinical work is largely driven by evidence based practice of established methods and processes. Busy working days leave little time for rethinking higher level decisions beyond ground-level problems. For this reason, universities and other research contexts are ideal places for innovation. Studying new disciplines and talking to people with different experiences has given me a fresh burst of energy to in my working day. Of course, academia is HARD WORK. Compared with my previous jobs, the deadlines are harder, the intellectual effort greater and like before, most things are urgent all of the time. For early career people who are thinking about research and teaching, there’s the extra load of planning classes, marking, and supporting students. Since recently submitting my thesis, I’ve chosen to focus on the research bit for now. I’ve been fortunate to work with an incredibly skilled and supportive team who are on hand to guide me through these early stages and new territories. What’s been great? Finding like minded people who share similar attitudes to the kind of work that excites me. Find your tribe. It’s so important.

In my very first speech therapy job I was supported by two amazing women who inspired me to pursue assistive tech and communication; Miranda Macaulay and Bonnee Harkess. On the wall above her desk, Bonnee used to have that Harold Thurman quote about doing what makes you come alive; you know the one. I end this post with that in mind. Whilst I’m learning that the grass is neither greener nor drier on either side, what’s important to me is being faithful to the core beliefs and values I hold in both roles. Let’s see how all this research business pans out!