AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) devices are becoming more and more prevalent in the lives of students with complex communication needs. Students who in the past would have had no way to communicate now have a device full of words that they can use to express themselves. The problem is that too often students are given these devices and not taught how to use them, leading to them getting left in backpacks, in desks and at home.
In teaching our students to communicate, our greatest focus should be on core vocabulary words. Core words are the most common words we use everyday, that serve a variety of communicative purposes. These are typically verbs, adjectives, prepositions and pronouns, like “go”, “stop", “more", “all done”, “get”, “help”, “in”, “out” and “you”. Focusing on these words will give our students the greatest opportunity to communicate a variety of intents and variety of information.
Part of our job as speech-language pathologists is to train families, teachers, staff and anyone who interacts with that child in using the child’s communication device with them to promote generalization. We’ve all seen the statistic:
“The average 18-month-old has been exposed to 4,380 hours of oral language at a rate of 8 hours/day from birth. A child who has a communication system (AAC) and receives speech/language therapy 2 times/week for 20-30 minutes will reach the same amount of language exposure (in their AAC language) in 84 years. Jane Korsten, SLP”
We don’t have 84 years to teach our students, so it is imperative that as SLPs we implement the evidence based teaching principles and teach them to our families. Below are the 4 strategies that are the principles of teaching AAC. Consistently utilizing them in your own practice and teaching them to families will result in students gaining the most independence in their ability to communicate.
Overall, the most important point is that communication should be fun and teaching a student to use their device can not only be the responsibility of the speech therapist but must be a responsibility of all of the child’s communication partners.
Author: Alexandra Mazza, M.S., CCC-SLP