In my recent article published in Autism Parenting Magazine, Issue 67, I focused on the augmentative and alternative (AAC) communication evaluation process and on answering commonly asked questions.
Many people have a misconception that once you receive an AAC communication device, this is the end of your journey. This is just the beginning! Receiving an appropriate communication system for your child is a very important part of the process, but it is not enough to get your child started on becoming a functional communicator.
In this article, I want to discuss the necessary steps that parents should take upon receiving an AAC device for their child.
1. Request school training from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) that specializes in AAC
One of my main responsibilities is training the AAC user’s staff at the school and working individually with the AAC user. Many people wonder, “Why can’t the child’s speech-language pathologist train all the staff?” This can be the case in some situations, but in many other situations, there are many reasons why this may not be feasible. Many times, an SLP has a full schedule and does not have extra time to train all the staff and work extra sessions in the classroom.
Other times a speech-language pathologist may not specialize in AAC and requires the training to help implement the AAC system in therapy and the classroom. Since AAC is an elective course in graduate school and not a required course, many SLPs do not specialize in AAC. Additionally, when I work in schools, I see my role as a team member where we continue to all have different roles and work together to meet the needs of the child. Being in this role helps both the team members and the AAC user.
2. Request home training
A very large part of getting your child to communicate functionally is parent training. Since an AAC system should be used in all contexts to help the child become an effective communicator, parents need to know how to implement the system at home. These parent training vary for each home depending on the child’s and family’s need for communication.
I mostly focus on basic programming and more on implementation and modeling in specific situations related to the parent. For example, is bedtime or after school when communication breakdowns occur most often? This can be a time to talk about implementing the AAC system to repair the communication.
3. Be patient
Being able to master an AAC system takes time and requires training. This is not a process that happens overnight. Many times, people expect that an AAC system will magically cure all communication problems overnight. An appropriate robust communication system with training and implementation can be a life-changing experience for a child.
However, without the training and implementation, a child can feel lost and frustrated in the process. I usually tell staff and parents this example, “Imagine placing a brand-new type of computer in front of you that you have never used before. Then that person tells you to “use it!” Obviously, you would have a hard time trying to figure this out right away. After some failed attempts you might get frustrated and not want to use the computer anymore. This is what it is like for an AAC user with a new AAC system. We need to teach and learn together as a team. I usually tell others that they need to think of an AAC system as a “second language.”
4. Connect with the community of AAC users and families
This is a key step that many people do not take. Often people can feel alone and isolated in the process. With social media, connecting with others is easy and can be very helpful in seeking advice, help and connecting with others in your situation. Many of the communication apps and devices that are recommended have wonderful private groups on Facebook to join. Get involved and join these groups! Connect and share your experience!
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5. Start small and build success with new routines!
This is my most consistent advice for educators and parents. My personal approach to AAC is not to overload parents and educators initially in the beginning. Since this can be an overwhelming process for the AAC user, team and family, I like to suggest starting small and building new routines with the communication device. This can help build confidence, success and long-term usage of the system. This may not apply to all situations, but once a child feels successful in using the AAC system in one activity or situation, it is easy to build upon this experience.
For example, with one child on my caseload who was initially resistant to the AAC system, we started using it one time during sharing time in the classroom. Once she became comfortable creating sentences on the system and then sharing it with the class, we build it into another activity. This helped build the system into her routines in the classroom. Obviously, this is not a one size fits all approach. In many classrooms, AAC is incorporated throughout the day, which is ideal. However, these staff members are already trained on how to implement this system in a variety of contexts.
This article was featured in Issue 74 – Every Voice Matters