Sunday, August 24, 2014

Are Your AAC Users Ready for a New School Year?

The start of another school year means, for me, another opportunity to make sure that nonverbal and minimally verbal students have robust aac systems they can use to communicate, are getting intervention to teach them how to use their systems effectively in all situations, and are getting real literacy instruction.  A tall order, I know.
So, I decided it’s time to review those myths about aac that keep many students from getting the communication systems they need.
Myth #1 is that this child is too “low functioning” to learn to use aac
In fact, there are no cognitive prerequisites for using aac
Nobody is too “low functioning” to communicate.  Even infants communicate, and learn to do so differentially.

Myth #2 is that only someone who is nonverbal should use aac.
In fact, many people with some speech can and do use aac effectively to communicate - that is why they call is AUGMENTATIVE as well as ALTERNATIVE communication.
Many children whose verbal skills are not sufficient to meet all of their communication needs, and many children whose verbal skills are developing very slowly - much more slowly than their understanding of language - 
and many of those whose speech is not intelligible enough to all listeners
should be using aac.

Myth #3
If no or low tech systems haven’t worked, then higher tech systems won’t work either.
In fact, many low tech systems fail specifically because they do not offer sufficient vocabulary to meet the person’s needs.  I have often seen children whose low tech systems have been unused or abandoned. Frequently this is given as the reason why something more “complex” hasn’t been tried. To the contrary, however, why the less robust stems have failed is exactly because they have not offered enough communication strength for the user.

Myth #4
There is a sequence - from no tech to low tech to high tech - through which an aac user must progress
In fact, the constant progression from one system to another - with the accompanying constantly moving position of words - actually makes learning more difficult for the aac user.

Myth #5
The child must show ability to discriminate the picture, and show that he knows what it means, before we put it into his aac system
In fact, there have been studies done that show that teaching the child to identify the picture symbols does nothing toward making him able to use them.
On the other hand, putting them into the aac system, providing adequate aided language stimulation and using them consistently goes far towards teaching the child how to use them.

Myth #6:  Get the behavior under control first.
In fact much of what we see as inappropriate behavior has a communicative function.  Providing a communication response that serves that function will actually decrease the behavior.  You cannot eliminate a behavior without providing an alternative; by providing an effective communication response the behavior can be reduced.

Myth #7
This will be a crutch.
For some users, aac may be a short term solution, to be used while they are acquiring more verbal skills.  For some, aac is a useful strategy for repairing a communication breakdown - rather than as a primary mode of communication.
What is true is that for people who see themselves as verbal - whenever or however those verbal skills develop - their verbal skills will always be their primary mode of communication.  
it is almost always true that people would prefer to be verbal, if that is possible.

Myth #8:  If he uses aac he won’t develop speech.
In fact, it has been shown through research and anecdote that aac users who have speech potential almost always develop more speech through use of aac.

Myth #9: Carrying that around makes him look too different.
However, not being able to participate in activities, or interact with peers, or engage with anyone will also make him look different - and will keep him from being able to access the curriculum.

Myth #10:  Giving someone an aac system will solve his communication problems.
An aac system is only a tool.  As with any tool, how well we use it and produce with it is dependent upon how well we have been taught to use it.  Children who are not taught effectively often do not learn to use the system effectively.  That does not mean that they do not have the potential to do so; only that we have failed to teach them.


To recap:
  • Nobody is too “low” anything to use aac
  • There is no progression from no to low to high technology
  • Children do not need to demonstrate ability to recognize the symbol before it is put into their aac system
  • Challenging behaviors are frequently serving a communication function; teach communication skills to reduce those behaviors.
  • Many verbal children do not have enough speech to meet their communication needs to communicate different kinds of messages in different kinds of situations
  • Using aac will stimulate speech development; not inhibit it
  • Using aac can be an excellent repair strategy when the child’s verbal skills do not suffice
  • The aac system may look strange; but giving him the tools to communicate with others will make him look far less different
  • Students who are not afforded both a variety of options and effective teaching strategies to develop communication skills have been failed by those of us endeavoring to teach them.

The myths of aac are the topic of the 3rd video in my aac basics series on YouTube. Click HERE to see it.
You can subscribe to my channel and see all of my aac basics informational videos.  There are 9 so far.


What aac myth will you “bust” this year, to make communicating easier for a student?

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