PODDtastic!

Sample communication books created using templates and guidelines from PODDThis week one of my students told us about his vacation. He told us about the company he had at his house, going out to eat and going to a party. This may not sound that unusual, to talk about a vacation, but it was a huge breakthrough for this student. At 15 years old this student who has cerebral palsy, cortical vision impairment and severe apraxia has been unsuccessful with many methods of communication.  He has tried communication books, sign language, static display voice output communication aids and dynamic display communication aids.  He does have a few spoken words and a few signs and gestures.  He is sometimes successful on voice output communication aids.  Yet until PODD nothing “clicked”.

This student’s apraxia means that the harder he tries at communication the harder it is to communicate.  This is seen mostly in his spoken language, words do not “come out” unless he is so excited or upset that they “blast” from him.  However this is also seen in his alternative communication.  When using a communication book he tends to just flip the pages and when using voice output his hand often hovers over a button instead of pressing down.  Add some mild cortical vision impairment to the mix, which presents as an inability to look and touch something at the same time and communication has been an exercise in frustration.

Enter the PODD. PODD or Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display is a both a method of communication/method of teaching communication and a set of manual communication books. PODD was created by Gayle Porter in Australia. PODD materials are arranged especially to be used for social interactions (pragmatically).  Messages in the PODD flow from one page to the next by way of page numbers that guide the user through a conversation.  So a conversation can move easily through conversational turns.

I will be the first to admit that I did not “get” PODD when I first read about it. It seemed cumbersome and indirect.  I disliked how the same symbols may be in different places on different pages (being the big believer in motor learning that I am).  I thought some of the language was too immature for my high school students.  And finally when I saw it in action it did not work. Our SLP attempted to implement it with another student in the classroom but it was not successful, mostly because we were not using it receptively with the student.  The PODD book ended up sitting in the student’s cubby unused until it landed in our “drawer of abandoned communication aides”

Then I went to Linda Burkhart’s workshop at ATIA in January.  Wow!  First of all if you ever get the chance to attend a workshop Linda Burkhart presents you should go. Second of all it is seeing videos of PODD in action that really “sells” it for use with our students.  The first thing I did when I came home from the conference was apologize to our SLP.  The second thing was to lay out a plan to introduce PODD into my classroom.  PODD really is everything that people who use it rave about, but it can be hard to tell that from reading descriptions and looking at pictures.  If you really want to see what PODD is about you should start by going to YouTube or a similar video site and watch videos of PODD in action.

PODDs are intended to be as much for receptive communication as they are for expressive communication.  Communication partners of individuals using a PODD also use the PODD to communicate.  Modeling or Aided Language Stimulation happens constantly as both communication partners use the PODD.  For the first it pretty much only adults used the book.  Eventually our student started to internalize the way PODD worked and communicate with us using it.

In our situation we are using a partner assisted scanning method of access to the PODD book.  The communication partner begins on the first page and names each item, one at a time.  For each item my student presses a switch for yes or no. (We use a green and a red Talk Block switch for this.)  If the answer is “no” the partner continues the auditory scan.  If the answer is “yes” the partner restates the message that has been created so far and turns the pages of the PODD as directed by the page numbers associated with each message.  Using partner assisted scanning with yes/no switches was a big part of the “ah-ha” moment for this student.  When we eliminated the physical burden of trying to look and point (or press) symbols to communicate his cognitive focus could remain on his message.  On top of this the is the added motivation of the intense attention from a communication partner and ability to be “bossy” that comes with using a PODD via partner assisted scanning.  All of these combined and we have communication.

Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) Communication Books: Direct Access Templates CD coverThe only way to purchase PODD right now, in the USA, is from Mayer-Johnson as a Boardmaker Add-on; in Australia and New Zealand PODD can be purchased from Spectronics. You will have to customize, print and bind the PODD books yourself.  The PODD boards that are available for purchase are designed for direct selection.  It is possible to customize these yourself for visual, auditory or multi-sensory scanning or other means of access.  Gayle Porter, Linda Burkhart and others are working on creating alternative access PODD materials to sell.

PODD can also be a great bridge to high tech dynamic display communication.  In our school we have modified it on a Tobii C-eye for a student who communicates through eye gaze and on Proloquo2Go on an iPad for use with direct selection.  (I am waiting with baited breath for Proloquo2Go to add two switch scanning so the student described above can user his iPad to talk!)  Currently using PODD on a high tech device means doing all the programming yourself, but it is worth it.  I have chatted with a few high tech AAC vendors about PODD being available as a vocabulary set, but currently none of the vendors has plans to do so (at least that they were willing to share with the likes of me!).

You can read more about PODD from Linda Burkhart’s website and handouts.  She also has a great hand out about using PODD with Partner Assisted Scanning, the hand out is meant for working with those who have Rett Syndrome, but applies to most, if not all, situations in which you would use partner assisted scanning.  Novita also has a great website about PODD.

PODD functionsAs you begin or continue to use PODD I think these tips from The Tasmania School of Special Education are important to remember:

“Using the PODD book… “go with the zen of the book”

  • Don’t become overwhelmed by the size and organisation of the book, stress about where to find a specific vocabulary item, or worry that the child will not be capable of navigating through all the levels. The child doesn’t have to navigate the levels. The partner can make the level changes for them.
  • Always begin on the front page with a pragmatic branch starter
  • Follow the numbers to get to the end message
  • Follow the operational commands
  • DO NOT TURN PAGES ONE AT A TIME LOOKING FOR VOCABULARY. If the child sees others do this that is what they will do.
  • Go back to page 1 at the end of each message.
  • Re-auditorise or ‘re-cap’ the message when your partner is selecting symbols or when you are moving between multiple levels in order to keep the message ‘current’.”

To purchase PODD right now, in the USA, is from Mayer-Johnson is as a Boardmaker Add-on.  It costs $325 (in addition to the cost of Boardmaker if you don’t already have it).

To purchase PODD, in Australia and New Zealand from Spectronics, visit Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) Communication Books: Direct Access Templates. In Australia it costs $250 and in New Zealand it costs $330 +GST.

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About Kate Ahern

My name is Kate Ahern. I am a teacher of learners with multiple or significant special needs. I have been working with youngsters who have developmental disabilities since I had my first job when I was 14 years old. Through out high school I volunteered and then worked in special needs classrooms and summer programs. I continued this in college, as well as pre-practicum and practicum placements in schools from first semester of my freshman year. I always knew I wanted to be in the field of special education and by the time I was 18 knew I wanted to teach student who needed intensive interventions to help them learn.

I attended Simmons College in Boston in a combined Bachelors/Masters Degree Program, finishing my undergraduate degrees in sociology and intensive special needs in 1998. One year later I finished my Masters of Education, also in Intensive Special Needs. Having been the sole undergraduate majoring in Intensive Special Needs at that time I was privileged to take Masters level courses from Freshman year on during my undergraduate time and then to design most of my Masters course work on my own (having completed all the courses offered). I worked with some fantastic mentors at Simmons College, among them Alan Blume and Susan Ainsleigh. Susan was my guide and taught me not just about teaching but about who I wanted to be as a teacher.

After college I taught various age groups from elementary to transition (18-22 year olds) in various settings (private/hospital, public schools, public educational agencies) all in New England. My professional interests are diverse and include the impact of presumed competence, integrating assistive technology in the classroom, alternative and augmentative communication and positive behavior supports as a framework for implementing application of behavior analysis. I tend to think outside the box and I love the creative side of teaching, such as creating curriculum units or finding ways to make breakthroughs with students who are harder to reach.

When I come to the inevitable bumps in the road that teachers face (the ones that lead to the 50%+ rate of special needs teachers leaving the field in the first five years) I go back to my “This I believe…” statement. (This I Believe is a series done on Morning Edition on National Public Radio.) It always helps me find my footing again, sometimes it takes a little longer than other times, but I always get there.

This I believe…

I believe my students can.
Can understand.
Can learn.
Can achieve.
Can beat the odds.
Can surpass plateaus.
Can communicate.
Can reach for the stars.
And grab them.

I believe my students deserve:
Deserve a chance.
Deserve the presumption of competence.
Deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Deserve high expectations.
Deserve to spend time enjoying friendships.
Deserve to make mistakes.
Deserve to tease and be teased.
Deserve to be in their community.
Deserve a bad day. And lots and lots of good ones.
Deserve a life that is more that yes, no and constant assessment.
Deserve a highly qualified teacher.
Deserve a say.
Deserve to be heard.
Deserve literacy.
Deserve health.
Deserve joy.

I believe a difference can be made.
Through kindness.
Through connection.
Through dedication.
Through research and scholarship.
Through constant rededication to quality teaching.
Through entering that classroom every day and teaching like lives depend on it.
Because they do.

6 Responses to PODDtastic!

  1. Thanks so much for this inspiring BLOG. I have just attended Gayle Porter’s workshop in Brisbane and have introduced some early functions PODDs to some of my clients. This BLOG was great to keep me inspired and enthusiastic. Thanks so much.

  2. Tim Kennedy says:

    I have always wanted to try PODD with my students, but it was overwhelming. This article gave me the courage to try it!

    • Wonderful to hear that you are re-inspired to use PODD with you students Tim. It is a fabulous system and Gayle Porter’s many years of experience in working with students with disabilities and complex communication needs make it so.

  3. I am interested to hear what you think of using this system versus the IPAD or IPOD touch with http://www.proloquo2go.com/

    I have a daughter who communicates now, but did use PECS in her early years (she is 10 now) I see this as an extension of the PECs system? I’m a fan of the IPAD and utilizing it for communication. Do you see this coming for an app for the IPAD?

    The book really makes me stop and go hmm. Okay it gets them communicating, but with the availability of technology it seems a decade behind. Is it cheaper overall for school districts? It just seems thats the draw.

    • Katie Lyon says:

      Thanks for your comments Maria – great to see you have read our Blog and thought about the application of PODD. It really is a very comprehensive and “tried and tested” system which Gayle Porter has refined over many years of working with children with complex communication needs. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and focuses on the initiation component of communication. PODD is a way of organising vocabulary which aims to develop language through modelling, allows for continuous communication for a range of messages across a range of topics, in different situations.

      With regard to this particular PODD resource being the “good old paper” version, we can all appreciate how important it is to have a low tech option as part of our communication system, for when technology is not available and PODD books can be a great “bridge to high tech dynamic display communication”, as Kate points out. However, many people who use PODD have, in fact, programmed a modified version on to their communication devices. PODD is really just a way of organising vocabulary which can be represented in low tech or high tech ways. At this stage there is no indication when a commercial version of PODD will be available for mobile devices.

      I’d be happy for you to contact me directly on katie@spectronics.com.au if you have any further questions that you want answered in more detail.

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