Tips to Help Your Child Use Augmentative-Alternative Communication (AAC)

Tips to Help Your Child Use Augmentative-Alternative Communication (AAC)
You've got the communication boards, picture symbols and/or voice output device but how do you put all of it into action and help your child become a functional communicator? The strategies outlined in this article are specific to augmentative-alternative communication (AAC) users but MUST be used in conjunction with the strategies outlined in the article Teaching Communication Skills for Speaking and Non-Speaking Children.

The "Quick Tips" article contains essential strategies for any child who is learning to communicate using symbolic communication via AAC or speech. This article will outline specific strategies to improve communication skills of AAC users.

1.

Teach communication skills during real-life activities



The best teaching moments occur during real-life, meaningful activities that encourage the use of communication symbols to participate in the activity. Meaningful activities include: playing games, food preparation, bed time routines, shopping, meal time, arts and crafts, pet care, trips to the beach, swimming in the pool, house hold chores, etc. These types of activities are especially effective in teaching communication skills because they occur naturally, within natural contexts and have naturally reinforcing outcomes.

2.

Review vocabulary prior to activities



Prior to engaging in a new activity with your child, review vocabulary that will be used during the activity on the communication board or device. Point to each symbol while you talk about the symbols' meanings. Don't expect your child to understand all of the symbols right away. By reviewing the symbols' meanings ahead of time, you are preparing your child to better understand the vocabulary available to him. However, keep in mind, your child may not learn to effectively use the symbols for communication until he is engaged in the activity that provides naturally occurring reinforcing outcomes.

3.

Model how to use the symbols



Model the use of communication symbols during meaningful activities. Modeling or showing how to use the symbols is a great teaching tool. Show your child how you would use symbols to communicate. For example, have a family member (maybe even your child who is working to improve communication skills) give you your favorite food after you point to the corresponding symbol(s) and verbally express your request. In this scenario, your child sees you using the board and hears the words you are saying. When you model the use of the communication board it not only helps to teach your child the appropriate way to use the board, but it also shows him it is okay to communicate using AAC.

4.

Script your routines



Script the communication exchange ahead of time to maximize teaching opportunities. Scripting the activity means prior to an activity you write out what you plan to say to your child while you illustrate your words by pointing to picture symbols. For example, if you were planning a bubble blowing activity you may start by saying, "blow bubbles" while you point to the symbols for 'blow' and 'bubbles.' After several repetitions of 'blow bubbles', you may want to say, "pop!" while pointing to the symbol for 'pop.' Next you could say, "Blow, bubbles, up" while you point to the symbols for 'blow,' 'bubbles,' and 'up.' Don't feel that the activity must go exactly as you have planned it. Your child may be highly motivated by popping bubbles and thus, you may stay on that part of the script longer than expected. Follow your child's lead and teach him things that are motivating to him and you'll have much greater success in teaching communication skills.

5.

Use prompts to provide support



Prompting methods from least to most intrusive include:
1. waiting or pausing for a response (i.e., increased wait time)
2. telling your child to "use his words" (i.e., verbal reminders)
3. illustrating the correct symbol choice using sign language or other visual representation without pointing to your child's actually communication board (i.e., visual prompts)
4. modeling pointing to the correct symbol (i.e., gestural prompts)
5. verbally stating the correct response (i.e., verbal model)
6. physically helping your child point to the correct symbol (i.e., physical assistance)

You will want to discuss prompting, appropriate prompt hierarchies and fading prompts with your SLP. Some students require a most-to-least prompt hierarchy which is a teaching strategy called "errorless learning." I prefer to use errorless learning primarily when a child is learning to communicate using a symbol for the first time. Once my students begin to demonstrate success using symbols to communicate, I frequently change to a least-to-most prompt hierarchy when it is appropriate for the student. By using the least intrusive prompts possible I am helping my students become as independent as possible and thus preventing them from becoming dependent on my prompts. It is important to try and fade out prompts as soon as possible to prevent your child from becoming dependent on your prompting.

6.

Implement the strategies outlined in the Teaching Communication Skills for Speaking and Non-Speaking Children article.



a. Require your child to use symbolic communication!!!!!
b. Control and manipulate the environment
c. Plan ahead
d. Use sabotage and temptations
e. Follow your child's lead
f. Listen to your child

This article provides a brief overview of how to begin to put AAC strategies into action. It is important that you seek the services of an SLP who specializes in AAC and discuss the ideas presented in this article as well as Teaching Communication Skills for Speaking and Non-Speaking Children
with your SLP. Perhaps most importantly, trust in your ability to teach your child, always be encouraging and positive when interacting with your child and remember to have FUN!

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