Sunday, August 27, 2017

All About a Starting Place

To follow-up on my last post, I want to talk a little bit more about beginning with young students who are very impaired.  There are a couple of things I wanted to add, especially if you’re backing up from a system that seems too complex.
So, where do I start?  With just 1 core word.  If I’m working with a student who cannot learn the Word of the Week in 1 week, or for whom 4 symbols per page is too much right now, I go back to my basic core and find the word that will give this student some communicating power.

Often that first word is NOT want, but is Go!  “Go” gives us a lot to work with, because it can be used in so many ways.
I can teach the child to use “Go” when (s)he wants to go somewhere.
I can teach “Go” when the student wants you to go away and leave him/her alone.
I can teach “Go” in order to give the student a direction to give others to ‘turn it on and make it go.’

Think about how powerful that one core word can be.

When I’m working in an evaluation I always have my portable dvd player and some wind up or other battery operated toys.  I’ve lost track of the number of hours I have spent teaching, “Go,” with dvd’s. (This also works if you have 2 iPads, using one for YouTube or music and the other for communicating. I also use my phone for music.)

When I am doing evaluations I like to see just how far I can “push the envelope.”  Can I establish “go,” and then move to “go more?”  And then can I get to “want go more?”  I have literally spent an hour just with videos and a basic device page and gotten that far, and more!  All it takes is consistent modeling, motivating activities, and a structured, direct instruction.

Now not all students can do that even with the best instruction in the world.  And I have also seen many students who take much longer to learn “Go.”  But I am here to tell you that I pretty much have not found a young student who cannot learn basic cause-effect with communicating.

What I do find are teams  who give up.  It is difficult to maintain the consistency and level of instruction when progress is very slow.  More often than not, I see staff who get discouraged by the lack of feedback from the student and, when discouraged, eventually give up the level of modeling consistency that is needed.

So, to those staff who have become disillusioned with AAC, I say:
“Don’t give up. Don’t stop modeling consistently, Don't lose confidence in yourself or the student. Don’t conclude that he can’t learn to communicate.
Do keep on modeling as much as possible.  Do find the most motivating activities that engage your student (and yes, these are sometimes difficult to figure out).  Do find as many different ways and contexts to model that core word in genuine communication interactions.”

More next week. Until then, keep on talking! 


  1. YES! I have worked with many children who loved to communicate "GO." There are countless powerful motivators. I like the wind-up toy idea! Getting a push on a swing, being pulled on a scooter board, or just moving forward in the hall are a few that I have used.

    1. SLPs and Its have long done co-treatment for kids and Go works really well! Thanks for reading.

  2. The amount of time needed can be staggering, but I love your encouragement to never give up! Thanks for sharing how powerful the word 'go' can be!

    1. I usually think when someone tells me a student "failed" to learn AAC it is because of us; not because the students can't learn it. Thanks for reading.

  3. Such an inspiring post! I agree there is power in one core word. I remember working with a child on "more" for months! His mom was so grateful that her child was able to use his word at Thanksgiving dinner! Thanks for reminding us of the power of communication!

    1. Sometimes it feels like it takes forever, but the pay-off is huge! Thank you for reading.