Even though I was in graduate school, I was completely overwhelmed. I was still learning terms like “assistive technology” and “AAC.” I assumed that if I went to the right conference, I could find the right expert who would point me towards the right technology, and the right strategies to learn to use it.
My daughter, Maggie, was 6 years old. Her school team wanted her to use photographs to request things. Laminated photos were scattered all over my house but rarely used for communication. Maggie’s AAC assessment said she wasn’t ready for anything more than photos. I wandered the vendor hall at that first conference, looking for a better technology. I sat anxiously in workshops, trying to write down every word.
I started attended conferences to get information that I couldn’t find online. But I found so much more. I found solidarity in fellow parents walking the same path. I found experts who could help me sift through the information and focus on what mattered most. I found allies who could support my family and others. I found vendors who were deeply committed to supporting kids and families like mine. I found mentors who opened doors, and I eventually began presenting at conferences myself.
Ten years later, so much has changed! At the beginning of this decade, it was hard to find information about what a child like mine needed to learn to use AAC. Now there is so much information online that its a challenge to sort through it all. Finding the right information at the right time is still difficult. But content that used to only be available at conferences is now streamed online and published in books.
Ten years ago, the AAC options were limited and expensive. Now there are so many AAC apps that we struggle to compare them all. Families no longer need to wait for an AAC assessment before we can start teaching our kids how symbols unlock language. We can get started with AAC just by downloading a core board from Project Core or the Crescendo core board from AssistiveWare.
As I look forward to this next decade, I am no longer overwhelmed. I have a community who walks this journey with me. People I met at conferences have helped me find technology that is slowly unlocking more language for her. We’ve found training on how to be better teachers and conversation partners. I’ll soon attend my first AT conference of the 2020s. At ATIA, I’ll sit on panels with parents and AAC specialists in Florida, while still slogging through the day-to-day advocacy for my own daughter’s AAC back home in Ontario. My girl will leave school soon. Now, I go to conferences to find out how how we will keep supporting her communication when she is an adult. Conferences are now where I go to have conversations about what matters most in communication for everyone.