Classroom Freebies

Being a Good Communication Partner to an AAC User

     There continues to be a lot of confusion from parents, teachers, aides and SLPs about how, exactly, to talk to AAC users to help them communicate more.  Being a partner to an AAC user requires us to be on our toes.  We need to think about what we're saying, what they're doing, how we can help them to do something more or different, whether we're interpreting what they're doing correctly.....  It seems like a lot.


So, here are some more basic tips:

Good Communication Partners:
create a positive communication environment
respond to all communication attempts
use the child’s AAC system to communicate to them

Creating a Positive Communication Environment
There is a positive communication environment when we respond to all of a child’s communication attempts, provide support as needed,  focus on positive results, and find solutions to challenges.   Even when you respond to an undesirable behavior,  if you do so while also modeling how to use the correct message in the AAC system you take advantage of a communication opportunity.  
As much as possible, do NOT ask yes/no questions,  do NOT ask closed-ended questions
DO ask Wh-question or other open-ended questions.  If necessary,  ask multiple choice questions.
Strategies to create opportunities to communicate include providing choices, sabotaging the environment, giving small amounts of desired item/activity, briefly delaying access, using pause time, using fill-in-the- blank activities.

Respond to all Communication Partner’s Attempts:
All children communicate.  They don’t necessarily all communicate symbolically - that is, with pictures, words, text.  And some of their non-symbolic communication is undesirable.  
Think about how this child responds to his/her own name; what (s)he does when a routine is interrupted; what (s)he does when wanting an item, action, attention, or help; or tells you when something is wrong.
What we’re talking about is how this child communicates to reject/protest, request, comment.  Those are some of the main, early functions of communication. The earliest communication behaviors are social regulatory - regulating another’s actions.  
What we need to do is to respond to those other communication behaviors, while shaping them into more acceptable or understandable forms.
The more you practice using the aac system during real contexts, and increase the number of those contexts in which you use the aac system, the more automatically the child will learn to use the system.
Use the AAC System to Communicate TO the Child:
Aided Language Stimulation - also called Partner Aided Input - is crucial to the child learning to use their aac system.  
Language is learned through models.  Children learn spoken language by listening to others using it.  A child using picture-based communication is learning an entirely different language.  They need to see models of people using it effectively.  And models provided in response to their communication is most powerful.

Facilitating Communication:
provide access to the aac system - it needs to be available all of the time.  This is how this child “talks” and (s)he needs to know that communication is valued enough to be there whenever it is needed
provide AAC models - use aided language stimulation as much as possible.  When asking questions during an activity, highlight key words by using the aac system
provide opportunities for the child to take a turn - i.e. by pausing after each turn you take.  Don’t be the only one “talking”
pause/expectant delay - give the child time to process, time to formulate a response.  Looking expectant while pausing lets the child know you expect a response
ask open-ended questions - and wait for the answer before you provide it; if necessary, then you can answer the question then provide a prompt for the child to imitate the answer.  Asking Wh-questions instead of yes/no questions allows the child to learn higher-level responses.
prompting those responses - providing verbal prompts lets the child know what they are supposed to do.
When do I do Each of Those Things?
Begin with routine activities.  Many routine activities have a set beginning - middle - end that are predictable , use words that are predictable.  This makes it easier for the child.
Other activities are a little less predictable but can easily provide communication opportunities.
Sample activity (based on Kent-Walsh and Binger): 
  1. Read from a book (a 2-pg. spread) + Model using the AAC system.  Then PAUSE
  2. Ask a question + Model using the AAC system.  Then PAUSE
  3. Answer the question + Model using the AAC system. Then PAUSE
  4. If necessary and appropriate to the target goal: Prompt a response.
Take turns with other adults role playing how to do this so it becomes automatic.

Start using ALgS (Aided Language Stimulation) with one activity.  When you’re comfortable, add another. activity/time  Keep adding activities throughout the day until the strategies are used all of the time. 
Keep track of the need for new vocabulary.  By the time you have increased the number of contexts, you may find that there is more vocabulary that you need.  Have a plan for how to keep track of this.  For example, some classrooms keep a list on a clip board for each applicable student, staff write down words as they come up.  The list is given to the person who updates the system every day/week/2 weeks - as appropriate.
And, remember, Keep on Talking!
Find a free copy of this in handout format here