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AAC and God

Posted May 26, 2021 - 11:38am

By Mike Hipple 

My mom and I started volunteering at our church with Sunday school a few years ago. Our goal is to show people, children and adults that a person who has a disability can teach and understand about God and Jesus too. At our church which is huge, they don't have a special needs program for children who have a disability. In fact, they have two group homes that bring their adults to the services. So, you might wonder why does God play an important role in people who use AAC and do people who have a cognitive disability can understand faith and God? Those are great questions and I will try my best to answer them.

Before we go anywhere I want to make clear that not everyone who uses AAC has a cognitive disability and I will promise to write on this topic later. We do have a huge percent of people who have a cognitive disability and use or need to use AAC. I think they can understand God too. God is a funny and hard topic to understand for everyone to understand sometimes. When I teach Sunday school to little ones {we do kindergarten and first graders} I try to bring in something that they would know about and try to talk to them on their level. We do this all of the time in special education so it will be nothing new to you all.

I don't know about your church, but my church does a lot of beautiful songs and music, our Sunday school has a band and they start off every week with some songs and everyone is singing and dancing. Did you know that almost every communication device have a MP3 player or you can add songs to them? This is an excellent way to include them. A huge part of any church is studying the Bible. We have a cool program at our church. Children need to tell an adult a line from the Bible story that we are studying, once they do this they will get a star on the Bible memory wall and of course everyone makes a huge deal out of it. So we can do this with AAC Communicators too. Just put two lines on their communication device one is the line from the Bible and one isn't. If they are writing sentences, have a notebook on their device to write the line themselves and when they get to their Sunday school play it for the teacher. The teacher will be amazed by this.

If you follow me on Facebook you know that I lost my aunt this past November and I lost my grandma this April. It has been hard losing both of them to say the least. Sure I lost people before but they were just friends. The next two paragraphs are for professionals on how you can help the family and most important the AAC Communicator to get through those hard days.

Be understanding of what they're going through. If they are in school, allow time just to talk through their feelings if they want to. Maybe that day will do nothing and that needs to be okay with you. Have you lost someone in your life? Remember the feelings that you had. Well guess what the student is feeling the same way too, but maybe they don't know what they feel. Our job is to help them. This isn't a teaching time or a test on feelings. This is a time for them.

When my best friend killed himself, I thought I was great to go and I saw my student on that Monday morning. Big mistake on my part, I wasn't ready to go. Our students who have a cognitive disability, they might keep asking about their family member. That is okay and 100% normal. I still talk about my friends Tim and Jon and I know I will talk about grandma and aunt Lisa until the day that I die. What isn't normal is talking about them non stop and isn't good for them or their family members too. We need to remember always that it was their parents or their sibling too. Take time to ask the parents and siblings about how they are doing and do they need anything that you can do for them. That is easy and goes a long way. The last point that I would like to make is that some days it will be harder on your students and you won't get any work done, this needs to be okay. You don't want to say come on guy we need to get this worksheet done. That won't help you in the long run and the student will shut down. We need to take our time with them.

If you haven't watched the documentary Only God Could Hear Me, go watch that one please. Now I'm not just saying this because I know two people who were in this and one of them might kill me ha ha ha, but really it is an important one to watch. It shows relationships between the five people who use AAC that they have with God, family, and their communities. It came out in 2010.

The first time I saw this documentary I was at a conference and the man said we have a special documentary to show everyone. I thought to myself but I want to eat dinner not watch a boring documentary. I was happy that I watched it because the documentary spoke to me like nothing did before. Yes the documentary is mostly about Minspeak, but the people talked about their faith and understanding of God and Jesus. My favorite part of the documentary is when Chris and Jen talked about their relationships with God. Knowing both of them for 10 years now, I can type this easily. They walk the walk everyday. They both told me early on in our friendship that you will have yelling matches with God about your disability, but he put you on this Earth to do something. I will always remember this and I hope you tell your students or your kid too.

So back to our questions can people who have a cognitive disability understand God and why is having a faith relationship so important for people who use AAC? To answer the first question I hope so. I think our number one job as AAC professionals and family members is to find Bible that they could understand. We have children's Bibles available and a lot of excellent picture Bible books. Just search this and you will find a lot of picture books. A few years ago Autism Society of America published a 15 paper about how to include people who have a cognitive disability, it is an excellent read. AAC communicators need to have faith and need to know that God and Jesus are there everyday, because they have more challenges during their life than a typical person will have. I wasn't always a church going person and if you know my story at all I had my challenging years. God was and is always with me through the bad years and through the good years. I know he is looking out for me and my family.

Thank you God and you better take good care of everyone that I care about.


Communicators In Action  -    aac, religion, god, bible, language, communication, disability, church