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Review of Linda Burkhart workshop


Several of us at the TalkLink Trust were lucky enough to attend a two-day workshop presented by Linda J. Burkhart in October this year. What a fantastic couple of days! Linda has such a wealth of knowledge and experience in teaching children with complex communication needs. As a teacher, I found it particularly refreshing and exciting to hear from someone who has practiced with such skill as a teacher for so long.

On day one, Linda looked at historical perspectives in AAC and linked this with current understandings with a focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder, Angelman Syndrome and Rett Syndrome. Having an understanding of the complex needs of your particular learners is important. It was great to hear some AAC myths busted and the case for best practice made so clearly. Learning language through experience, in natural contexts, without drilling and with a focus on core vocabulary is the way to go!

A key strategy I took away from day one was using repetition with moderate differences. We all know that our students need to hear, see and try a new skill multiple times. Making this repetition meaningful and natural will assist in holding their attention and generalise the learning. Linda demonstrated this by using switch-adapted toys. Not only do her students use the toys for a purpose (move the toy to knock something down, move the toy to carry something…), but the toys are changed-up to create a moderate difference. Linda showed us how she did this by attaching a velcroed image or placing a puppet over it.

Another gem from day one was the use of the Step-by-Step (Ablenet) multi-level message devices when working on teaching access to two switches. Linda talked about the work she had done along with Caroline Musselwhite, developing Co-Planned Social Scripts and using these on the devices. This was a revelation for me and something I will use with these learners. Students have the opportunity to build their own message by planning with their communication partner.

Day two continued with more practical strategies and resources shared. Linda focused a lot on learners with multiple and complex needs such as Cortical Visual Impairment, auditory impairment and severe motor challenges. Again, Linda’s experience over many years and with learners with complex needs, became apparent. I appreciated the combination of research and theory, and practical strategies and resources. Linda’s work over the years with Gayle Porter was evident and her knowledge of the PODD (Pragmatically Organised Dynamic Display) AAC system was fantastic. She showed us many adaptations and variations for using the system with learners with such complex needs.

All of us got a lot out of the two days. There were so many ‘golden nuggets’ to take away. One of the best things we did was get together as a team of teachers, SLTs and OTs the following week to discuss and share what we all took from the training. There was so much in there for us all.

For futher information, Linda shares many of her resources here:



Jane Wendelken


TalkLink Trust


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Paula Shennan

Paula Shennan

Speech Language Therapist at The Talklink Trust
I am a Speech and Language Therapist who joined the Talklink Auckland team in November 2011. I have an interest in the area of Assistive Technology and enabling and empowering individuals to communicate using various means.
Paula Shennan

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