AAC Basics

What is AAC and who should use high tech AAC?

AAC stands for alternative augmentative communication. AAC is a very broad category that includes the use of facial expressions or gestures, picture icons, sign language, or a high-tech device such as an application on an iPad. AAC provides a way for an individual to communicate when they can’t use spoken words or need an alternative means in order to supplement spoken language. 

So, who needs AAC? AAC is for anyone whose daily communication needs are not met by spoken language alone. A robust AAC system provides the language needed to protest, request, comment, express opinions and emotions, share information, interact socially, and ask questions. High-tech AAC provides an opportunity for language to grow through grammar, vocabulary, and even literacy skills! All children deserve the chance to have a voice in which they can say what they want, when they want, and however they want, and that is the ultimate goal of providing access to AAC!

Where to start with AAC?

If your child has recently gotten an AAC device or hopes to get one soon, the most important teaching tool is modeling. AAC expert David Beukelman once said giving a child an AAC device and expecting them to be able to use it without modeling is like giving a child a piano and expecting they’ll know how to play. Modeling is the way we teach a child how to use a device. We call this aided language modeling or stimulation, and it’s the idea that the communication partners in the child’s life provide frequent and consistent modeling on the device. Modeling is simply pairing verbal speech with a few key words on the child’s device. This means the communication partner presses buttons on the device! Modeling helps the child to see how the device can be used and where buttons are, and most importantly, that this is a language system we all accept and can use as communication! 

When first starting with the device, the task of modeling can be very daunting! There are so many words and it can be hard to know where to even begin! Life is busy and adding one more thing to the long list of “to-do’s” can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that your child is also in the early stages of learning, and it’s okay if you don’t know where every word is or if it takes you a few extra seconds to locate the word you want. Learning AAC is like learning a new skill. It’s going to take time, and at first, it might take more energy and focus, but over time, it will become more natural and it won’t take as much thought. We just have to get started and learn as we go! 

So where to begin with this daunting task..? Here are a few ideas and simple goals to get yourself started. 

  1. Start small and make an achievable goal so you can feel successful

If we make our first goal to model all day, all the time, and every possible word, we are most likely going to feel like failures. When we feel like we fail, we often feel guilty and just give up all together! This is not what we want! So, start with small goals!

  • Core Word of the Week

Find one word on the home page that you say a lot. Some ideas are go, more, all done, want, eat, help. For one whole week, try to say that ONE word in as many different situations as you can. You could even make a goal of how many times you’re going to try to say it each day. Maybe, at first, that goal is 5 times a day. Put a white board or note pad on your fridge, and tally how many times you can model it in a day!

  • Plan ahead

With the craziness of life, it’s often hard to add in an additional thing during an already hectic schedule. Think about one routine in your family’s day or week that is fairly calm and happy. Maybe this is meal time, story time before bed, or play time outside. This should be a time when you, as the parent, are also calm and feel like you could add something extra. Think about 1-2 words that you could model during that time, and for the next week, try to model those words. The next week, try out modeling in a different familiar routine!

  • Ask your SLP for a low-tech version of the device

Printed versions of your child’s device are called low tech boards. Try putting them around the house in order to (1) remind you to grab the device and (2) provide a quick way to model language if you don’t have the device. This can make modeling more natural. For example, if you have it on the fridge, instead of abruptly stopping an interaction with your kid to grab the device, you can just model a target word on the low tech board. Maybe, every time you open the fridge, you point to the word “eat” on the low tech board. You could put a low tech board in the bathtub, by your child’s bed, on the pantry door, on the outside door, at the kitchen table, or in a play area. 

Here are some small achievable goals to help you get started!

  • Keep the device in the same room as the child throughout the day
  • Model 1 word 5x a day, pick a new word each week
  • Model “eat” 1x at every meal
  • Play for 5-10 minutes each day with your child and favorite toys and try to model and explore the device without any expectation that your child will imitate!
  • Put a low tech board on the fridge or pantry door and model “eat” or a food item every time you open
  • Put a print out on the exterior door and touch “go” every time you leave
  • Find a new book every week and plan ahead 1 word you are going to model during the book. Read the book every night for a week and model that word! 
    • Example: 
      • Brown Bear Brown Bear–pick 1 word (see, you, colors)
      • 5 Little Monkeys (more, no, on, off, head)
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