No AAC device or picture communication system stands alone. Just as children need interaction and reinforcement from adults to learn to speak, they will need the same attention to learn to use AAC. It is helpful to think of learning to use AAC as learning a new language. YOUR ROLE as an adult in the child's life is VITAL to success! The following strategies describe YOUR ROLE in detail. Often, a good teacher uses a combination of the following strategies throughout a single interaction. It must be said one more time - if you think that having pictures and voice output available in your class is all there is to providing AAC to your students, you have missed the boat!
When planning for the use of AAC in the classroom, it is helpful to think of the daily routine as a framework. Each part of our routine includes specific activities, expectations and language. To begin, look at a part of the daily routine in which you plan to incorporate the use of AAC. Then determine what kinds of language tasks and expectations are associated with that part of the routine. Then use these language tasks and expectations to plan for the AAC devices and messages you will need to provide for all students to participate. See some examples below:
|Part of Routine||Language Task and Expectation||AAC Devices and Messages|
|Greeting Time||Greeting a friend, saying one's own name, choosing a relaxation technique, reciting an I Love You Ritual, etc.||BIGMack programmed with "Steven, Steven, that's my name", relaxation choice board, Sequencer programmed with the lines of an I Love You Ritual|
|Planning Time||Naming an area to play in, naming an object and/or action for play, telling how play will be carried out, etc.||Picture planning board, activity specific picture board (such as glueing in the art area)|
|Work Time||Describing objects/actions in play, asking for help, engaging a friend with a play idea, etc.||Cheap Talk 8 with overlay and messages for doctor play in the house area, "I need help" symbol placed in each area, MiniCom programmed with "Will you help me feed the babies?"|
|Shared Reading||Naming objects/actions in a picture walk, answering questions about the story, joining in reciting the repeated lines/phrases, etc.||Shared Reading 32-choice picture board, Cheap Talk 8 with overlay and messages from the story, BIGMack programmed with "Yes Ma'am, Yes Ma'am"|
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.