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Personal preference portfolios for kids with limited communication

by Mary Mazzoni on April 14, 2012

“Nothing about me without me!”

How dare we plan for another person without fully including him in the process?

We must tirelessly strive to empower kids to speak for themselves. Verbally, and/or through AAC (assistive augmentative communication).

Portfolios are helpful for anyone who is planning for the future. They compile lots of information in one place.

Preference portfolios are just one part of person-centered transition planning. They gather information about what’s most important to an individual person, helping us to see life through that person’s eyes.

Always Remember

  1. Portfolios aren’t meant to be completed in one sitting. They aren’t static. The idea is to gradually add and revise important information over time.
  2. Preferences change often. A person must regularly revisit and revise his preference portfolio.
  3. Preferences are developed through experiences.  All kids need a diverse range of experiences in order to develop a range of preferences.
  4. Repeated experiences in a particular situation may be needed to develop full understanding. (Visiting a work environment for a few minutes is very different than actually working in that environment for several hours a day, several days a week, over a period of time.)
  5. When kids cannot directly communicate preferences (verbally or via AAC), one can observe their behavioral response to a situation.
  6. Use caution interpreting behavioral response. (A person may vocalize loudly and move vigorously in a new situation. Is he excited, or anxious, or fearful, or angry?)
  7. If interpretation of behavior is used to understand preference, it’s important to engage input of a variety of people who know and care about the person (family, teacher, friends, paraprofessional, co-worker,etc.)
  8. No “out-of-the-box” portfolio format will be a “perfect fit” for an individual person.

Let’s look at a couple of formats and consider ways to tailor them to meet your child’s needs.

Two formats to consider

Listen to Me was developed by USARC/PACE and Allen, Shea and Associates. It can be downloaded here.

Personal Preference Indicators (CPI) was developed by the University of Oklahoma and can be downloaded here.

You’ll notice some similarities and differences between the two tools.

Their purpose is the same. To compile information about the perspective and preferences of people with limited communication – so that nothing is planned for them without their input.

Neither tool can be the sole basis of transition planning. Information from any personal preference portfolio needs to be combined with information about available resources and planning steps to develop an effective transition action plan with a student. You can learn more about transition portfolios here.

Tailor content as needed

These are both informal tools. Don’t consider them sacrosanct. Items can be added or changed to meet the needs of an individual person.

Form and function

Completed portfolios are used by teachers, adult agency staff, family and other adults supporting a student. Supports coordinators report that this type of portfolio is essential for the individual supports planning process used by most adult agencies.

That’s great. But -the portfolio format doesn’t effectively support the student himself to communicate his own preferences on a day-to-day basis.

The team should consider how key information from the portfolio can be formatted so your child can advocate for herself.

Some ideas:

  • Divide a binder into sections (or develop separate small books) representing different life domains (school, work, home, recreation, etc.). Use photographs and/or graphic symbols with key words for preferences in each area.
  • Assist the student to add symbols representing key preferences to his personal AAC system

Provide practice using the preference binder or the AAC system to communicate preferences in various situations with a variety of people.

Keep the end in mind

The goal is a life of self-determination, dignity and meaning for your child.

Toward that goal, your child needs:

  • Diverse experiences in order to develop preferences
  • An effective way to compile preference information
  • A practical way for your child to communicate key preferences directly to others

Strive toward this goal in a collaborative manner – with your child, school and agency staff, and others who know and care about your child.

Your turn

Have you and your child experimented with a preference portfolio? Is your child gaining experience communicating preferences in different situations with different people?

Do you have questions about functional communication or preference portfolios?

I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going in the comments!

If you found this post helpful, please pass it on! Thanks!

Photo Credit – NeoGaboX at Flickr

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