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Hospital Staff Find Creative Solution to COVID-19 Limitations

Annual Augmentative and Alternative Communication Camp Held Virtually

Every year, the Portland Shriners Hospital hosts an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Camp for patients who receive speech therapy services. The team of speech-language pathologists invites patients and families to a week-long event serving communication-specific needs in a group setting. This year, instead of canceling the annual event, staff members at the Portland Shriners Hospital got creative and adapted their program to a virtual platform.

Organized by recreational therapist Caroline Scott, CTRS, and in collaboration with the entire speech-language pathology team, the camp was designed to provide opportunities for social engagement among peers, encourage patient use of AAC in a dynamic setting, and provide patients and families with the opportunity to see how other patients use communication strategies and tools. The camp was modified to a two-day program with both a morning and early afternoon session.

Camp participation was curated by the speech-language pathologists, who invited families based on their child’s age, communication ability, the type of AAC their child uses, and who would most benefit from social engagement. Therapists were also mindful about the age range of patients selected to make sure that all activities were age appropriate. The team leading the event emphasized inclusion regardless of communication ability, and designed the camp to fit the needs of all patients.

In order to prepare participants for the virtual event, each family was mailed a packet with detailed information including a schedule for the camp, communication symbols and art supplies for an at-home sensory craft activity. Additionally, detailed instructions were sent via email along with a custom video welcoming patients to the camp. The video outlined the structure of the camp so families knew what to expect.

To make an optimal social experience for all participating patients, the communication symbols mailed to families were utilized to foster a nurturing environment for patients to be able to speak without interruption. These color-coded symbols included phrases such as “I have something to say,” “Please skip me,” or “I need more time.” All participants were muted until it was their time to speak and they were called on in the order that they raised their “I have something to say” symbol.

Each session, the camp began with a greeting exercise, where patients could say their name and share a little bit about themselves. Other activities included a story-time, a sensory craft activity, and share and tell. During the break between the morning and afternoon sessions, patients were also sent on a scavenger hunt in their homes to find items that fit the descriptions: something colorful, something that smells good, something that smells bad, something loud, and so on. Patients enjoyed being able to share items from their home with their therapists, and some patients got silly with their responses, including one who shared their brother as something that was both loud and smelly.

After the camp, all families were sent a survey where they were invited to share feedback about their experience in the program. Overall results showed patients and families were pleased with the outcome of the camp, and many families look forward to more opportunities to engage in facilitated group play with other patients. One parent had this to say about the camp: “It was great to have the opportunity to see other kids using their devices in an environment where ‘wait time’ is the norm and different ways of communicating are accepted and respected.”

Staff members on camera

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