(From Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs, Monday, October 1, 2012)
I received a text message today from a proud parent. She had heard from her daughter's speech therapist who told a story about how the child had independently used her speech device to access iTunes and turn on Adele when another child was playing music she didn't like.
This post is for all the proud parents and parents with high AAC hopes.
That mom commented that it was like I had mentioned before, "You need to move back!"
It's true. Communication is sloppy and nearly impossible to teach in a formalized structure. I have discussions with parents all the time about how to "bring AAC home". Here are some tips from my experience:
1) Set it and forget it! - Set up and turn on the speech device and then take the focus off of it. The device is a tool. It is your child's voice but in reality the focus is on interaction and connection. The more you try to focus on the device and just asking questions of your child or insisting they "find _____" the less motivating communication will be. Once the device is set up...
2) Motivate - focus on the fun or connection in an activity or family situation. Around the dinner table? Don't force asking to pass the peas or for a glass of milk - boring! Instead tell jokes, share about your day and encourage interaction. Focus on comments, descriptions and the AAC user asking, not answering, questions. Make communicating irresistible and then...
3) Model - language in equals language out (to paraphrase Linda Burkhart). The device is set up, you have a topic at hand and it is fun. Now YOU use the device. Have your other children use the device. Have visitors use the device. Communicate with the device as you communicate with your voice. Want to say that something is awesome? Use the device! Want to tell someone to quiet down? Use the device! Show, don't tell, how to use AAC to communicate and then...
4) Move out of the way. Leave the device set up, there is no such thing as "device time being over" or "being too tired". If someone is too tired to communicate then they just won't say anything. It is absolutely fine to have a device set up and then not say anything! You don't talk the every minute your mouth works, do you? Moving out of the way means letting life unfold and being ready for the surprises your child throws are you. You never know what they are going to say until you give them the time and space to say it!
5) Finally - Grow the device before the user needs it. By this I mean add vocabulary and information slightly faster than your child learns to use what is there. Make sure there are new mountains to climb. Rarely have I seen someone have too much vocabulary, but constantly I see someone have too little. If you only had the same 4, 32, 128 or 400 things to say over and over and over and over would you bother making the effort?
Good luck. Comment with your stories of communication success here (CLICK TO LINK) or on Facebook (TLWMN)!