It was a very special treat to hear San Franceisco's darling, Dr. Gloria Soto, and the emphasis she takes on teaching language (not just communication) using AAC. Stay with me here. Dr. Soto made it clear that giving an individual instrumental communication (the ability to request) is important, but, essentially, to stop there is a crime. It is imperative that we push AACommunicators who have mastered requesting into every more diverse uses of language. When we see learners only using systems to request after two weeks, 6 months, 5 years...its not right! AACommunicators need to be learning to use language. This starts with the provision of core vocabulary in their system and relies on the teaching of narrative language.
Thoughts sparked by Gloria Soto (some paraphrased, some extrapolated):
"Access is not possible without participation." Access to social opportunities is only actualized when an individual participates. Access goes beyond the provision of the tool. Being offered the opportunity is not enough.
"...a piano alone doesn't make a pianist...An AAC device alone doesn't make one a competent, proficient communicator" (Beukelman, 1991).
...Narratives are used to socialize children into our culture and our families. We ask 'What happened?' in order to help children make sense of the world.
...Speaking communicators don't talk about routines; these are scripts. We also don't tell about experiences or information that is already known by our listener (or at least we try not to!). What we choose to talk about what is new and novel. Things that affect us. When predictability is applied to all aspects of life (in order to prevent behavioral dysregulation) there is nothing to get excited about!
The desire to communicate is directly associated with the affect or emotion we feel toward an experience. Its important to add-in some surprises and out-of-the-ordinary experiences to get some affect going.
"Let's give 'em something to talk about" (sung by Bonnie Raitt, 1991).
...Vocabulary instruction in AAC often begins with 'I want' choice boards, whole-phrase messages, opportunities to respond to Yes/No questions, and highly scripted interactions. A best-effort language sample in response to the question, 'What did you do for your birthday?'
"Music guitar friends eight pretty flower white one blue picture doll my_little_pony book cupcake"
Without pronouns, determiners, verbs and prepositions what else can an AACommunicator say about her party? It's impossible to extract the specific narrative from this string of mainly nouns and the communicator is reliant on the partner to piece together the story.
- We provide communication tools in an effort to develop more independent communicators
- Then we teach them in a way that produces dependence on 1) a known context, and 2) on a competent, familiar partner to fill out the story
- This makes it impossible for the AACommunicator to generate messages that are unknown to the listener
- We create vocabulary-related problems for learners of AAC
- One-word utterances
- Absence of grammatical morphemes
- Small expressive lexicon
- Problems with morpho-syntax
- Poor vocabulary knowledge
- Context and partner dependency (G. Soto, 2013)