When children begin to communicate, they use words to get their wants and needs met. They use language that will get them something tangible (food, toys, etc.) or a social response (hugs, attention, etc.). We need to remember this when introducing a child to augmentative communication. We need to use messages that are what the child would want to say - not what WE want the child to say.
To get an idea what words, phrases or messages to include on a voice output device or language board:
Language learning in children occurs as a result of everyday experiences that are linked to words by the adults in a child's life. It is the adult who models the use of oral language ("You want a cookie?") as well as adds meaning to the child's attempts at oral language ("Ba"..."Oh, you want the ball. Here it is.") It is also important to remember that babies do not say words until they have been exposed to language for about a year. If we think of augmentative communication as a "new" language, it is easy to see that we need to model the use of AAC for the children as well. Adults should point to the pictures (or activate the messages on a device) as a natural part of speaking to children, in addition to encouraging the children to point to them. Some children will learn more quickly and some children will need our support in the form of modeling for a longer period until they internalize not only the meaning of the symbols but how to use them functionally.
Modeling the use of voice output and picture communication as a consistent part of the classroom routine also sends an important message that augmentative communication is an accepted and important way for all individuals to communicate.
In addition, many of our students who are verbal but are having difficulty learning language (auditory processing difficulties, home language other than English, visual learners, etc.) can benefit GREATLY from a visual language model paired with verbal speech.
Give cues (expectant pause, facial expression, gesture, body language, etc.) and plenty of wait time for student responses
Some children that use augmentative communication need extra processing time when they are asked to respond or participate in an activity. Some of the things they may need to process are:
It is recommended that after an opportunity to communicate has been presented ("Which song do you want to sing?"), an adult should wait at least 10-15 seconds for a response from the student before giving a verbal cue. That sounds like a long time but you will be surprised that many children will be able to respond given time. Plenty of wait time also sends a non-verbal message to a student that is using picture communication or voice output that what he/she has to say is important and worth waiting for. Remember - it is all about EXPECTATIONS.
Other non-verbal ways to wait expectantly:
The prompt hierarchy is a system of cueing that allows a student the opportunity to communicate. The cues are sequenced from least to most directive (this is counter-intuitive for many special education professionals, but it REALLY WORKS) . By implementing in this order, the cues allow each student a greater number of opportunities to communicate.
If these techniques for cueing are unsuccessful a teacher should reconsider the communication system. Perhaps there are too many choices, the child is physically unable to access it, etc.
Remember, the Pre-K SPED Tech Team is always a phone call away (305-271-5701). We want communicating in the classroom to be successful for both teachers and students and we can help!
Many students who use AAC become well-practiced responders. They learn to wait for communication opportunities to be offered to them. Our goal is for our students to understand that communication is powerful and for them to take on their own communication roles. We want them to initiate, as well as respond. Some ways to build ownership of picture or voice output communication systems include:
You may wonder how a child learns the communication process with voice output or picture communication. The answer is: exactly the same as it is for a child learning to communicate orally - by TRIAL AND ERROR. Attempts to communicate may be exploratory and random at first. Adults help children build the meaning of communication attempts by providing concrete experiences and feedback. Augmentative communication is NOT ABOUT THE DEVICE but about how we teach it to be used in a functional way.
When a child activates a voice output message or points to a picture or object, an adult should immediately respond in several ways:
Some students, when presented with voice output, like to press all the buttons to explore and/or find out what each one says. This is OK at the beginning if it doesn't start to interfere with purposeful use of the device.
If the exploration of the device seems repetitive, random or non-purposeful, the adult should hold the device in place long enough for the child to press it once, remove the device and give immediate reinforcement for the message even if it appeared to be random. Over time, this teaches that the device is not a toy and it has a specific purpose and there are specific ways of behaving when it is presented. Be consistent and patient. If the child's use of the device does not become purposeful over time, try using a simpler device (perhaps one with only one button/message) or call a member of the Pre-K SPED Tech Team for help (305-271-5701).
Sabotage is a strategy that can work whether students are communicating orally or with augmentative communication. It involves setting up situations that "entice" children to communicate. Some examples are:
By storing language boards and voice output devices near where they will be needed, you will save yourself several steps and precious time in setting up an activity. You will also be more likely to use them. Some ideas for accessible storage:
Hang general language boards (that may be used in several different situations) in a central area.
Hang area specific language boards in the area where they belong within reach of both adults and children.
Store activity specific boards on the shelf or in the container with materials from the activity.
Use a symbol system according to the student's needs (objects, miniature objects, photos, drawings, product labels, or Picture Communication Symbols)
Not all children or students who are beginning to communicate understand abstract symbols. Although there are strategies to teach the meaning of symbols within the context of real activities, it may be helpful for some children to begin with more concrete symbolic representations. Some options are outlined below:
Real objects can be used for some children to make choices at mealtimes or playtimes. Offer two objects and the child can indicate his/her choice by looking or reaching for one of the two. Give the indicated item to the child even if the choice seems random, to help build understanding of the choice making process. Use words while you do this, "Which one do you want? You looked at bubbles." This technique can be expanded by adding more objects or by pairing the objects with pictures.
Color photographs can also be used for communication. Photos of objects should be taken with a plain colored background. Photos of people, events, or areas of the classroom should be as simple as possible without a lot of background clutter. This technique is good for objects and simple actions but is nearly impossible for feelings and other abstract concepts (how do you photograph "more"?). A combination of photos and symbols may be necessary.
Product labels are easy to use for symbols because they come directly from the food items and toys we use in the classroom every day. They can be used as is or be attached to a communication board or voice output device.
These are the Boardmaker symbols we use to create communication boards. Many are highly representative and others are more abstract. Many boards and symbols are available for download on this web site - click here
Browse the Adaptation Station HERE
Prekindergarten Program for Children with Disabilities | Miami-Dade County Public Schools
5555 SW 93 Avenue, Miami, FL 33165 | Phone: 305-271-5701 | Fax: 305-598-5253