Sunday, December 17, 2017

Three Keys to AAC Implementation Success

If you've been reading this blog for a while, I'll bet you can tell before you even begin what my 3 top tips might be.  They're the 3 basic steps to start with when teaching a child/student to use an AAC system.
And if you don't know them, didn't learn them in graduate school, haven't run into them yet in your career, or are a parent who's never been told, then please, keep on reading.
And even if you think you know what they are, please keep reading. We can all use some reminders, refreshers, and  a bit of reinforcement that what we're doing is right.

Tip #1: Knowing how to balance core and fringe vocabulary
Core words are important.  But you can’t forget the important fringe words, either.  Don’t exclude them.
Why is this important?  We focus on core words because they are crucial for generating the majority of utterances.  But every speaker has words that are important to him or her to which we should not leave them without access.
This tip is important because the user’s earliest communication often centers around those things that are uniquely important to him.
How is this important to get better AAC implementation results?  Early interactions with the AAC user will focus on daily routines, routine activities that are important and motivating to the user.  While core words, function words, are important in all of these interactions, the users will also want to specify those items that are important to him within this routines.  To maximize the user’s comfort and engagement, make sure to in crude these words, too.

Tip #2: Knowing how to create a descriptive language environment so students can use core words
One of the keys to maximizing the functionality of core words in the classroom - and minimizing time spent programing minimally useful vocabulary into an AAC system - is training teachers to use descriptive, rather than referential, language.
Why is it important? Again, we want to give the AAC user the most communication impact for his system “real estate.”  With a limit to the number of words on a page, we want those words to count - and be useful over and over again.
This tip is priceless to those of us who used to spend hours and hours adding vocabulary into each student’s AAC system, only to have it be useless the next year - or month!
How ca you implement this tip to get better AAC implementation results?
Here's how: Train teachers to think about Bloom’s Taxonomy.  They’ll already be doing this if they’re thinking about the Common Core Standards.  Rather than having a student recall or identify (What is the name of the place where this story took place?) have them think more descriptively, summarily, or analytically.  For many students, the best way is to ask; “Can you describe where this story takes place?”  It might be “green,” “trees,” “dark,” “cold,” if the story happens in a forest, for instance.  Three out of those 4 words are core words that the user will find in his AAC system and use over and over again.  No need to program in the name of the particular words or forest.  That’s much less important.
My favorite example is one Gail Van Tatenhove uses, explaining why programing the names of the layers of the Rainforest into an AAC system is significantly less useful than asking the student to describe, for example, the Emergent Layer.

Tip #3: Knowing how to teach more vocabulary regularly
Introduce new vocabulary in as many ways as you can.  Providing a context for the vocabulary is crucial; particularly for students with special needs who may not have the same life experiences as their neurotypical peers.
If you can’t provide the context in real-life, then bring life into the classroom or therapy room.  If you’re teaching the story of the 3 Pigs, bring in pieces of straw and sticks and brick for students to feel.  Make a pile of each.  How easy is it to blow each of them over?
If even that is not possible, try creating role play and simulations.  I don’t think I know a speech-language pathologist who has never held a mock-birthday party in her room.  Gather plastic figurines, laminate pictures of objects to manipulate.
And, of course, read.  Reading text provides a context for which a student may have no experience.  It’s a little circular, I know.  We provide experiences to teach the vocabulary in books, and use the context in the book to teach the vocabulary.  But it is the very nature of providing these multi-faceted experiences that help the student learn what the word is, what it means, where and when to use it, and then…… how to find it in the AAC system.

Now that you've got the advanced tips for AAC implementation success down, I'd like to invite you to get even MORE advanced help with your (free) instant access to "Top Tips and Strategies for Teaching AAC"

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