Sunday, May 27, 2018

Moving AAC Users Beyond Single Words

Last week I shared with you some free resources to help keep students communicating over the summer, to prevent that “Summer slide,” when students are out of school and not engaged in intervention activities.
This week, I thought I’d share with you some of my ideas for building phrases and sentences with core words (and necessary fringe). Just to review, core vocabulary are those high frequency words that we use over and over again to generate the messages we make. And fringe words are those less frequent words that are important and specific to each user.


We know that we need to provided models of use of the AAC system so that our AAC users can learn where to find and how to use words, and how to use the AAC system. We know that this modeling of the AAC system takes the place of - or supplements our use of - speech models for picture based communicators. That immersion in this ‘different language’ is needed for students to know how to use it competently.

We also know that we need to provide our models at and 1 step above the child’s current language use. So, if the child is using single word responses, we model 2-word phrases. If he is using 2-3 word phrases, we model 3-4 word phrases. Etc. Unfortunately, what happens is that somewhere between the single word stage and the 3-4 word stage, something breaks down. Communication partners stop providing consistent aided input. Or they think that this is such an accomplishment - finally to have the child communicating - that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. Or having the child be able to tell what he wants or needs is sufficient.
For whatever reason, relatively few of our AAC users develop morphosyntactic competence.

Janice Light pointed out a number of years ago that a part of the problem was the lack of grammatical availability in AAC systems. While there are still too many AAC systems - on paper, on devices and apps - that continue to restrict language development, there are also many available now that do have a mechanism for morphological markers and syntactic forms. All require additional steps to add the markers(-s, -es, -ed,- ing, etc.) to the word. And all too often I see that these buttons - where there are specific buttons for these - have been removed, in order to make room for more words. More words may be nice, of course, but when that is at the expense of language building students lose too much.

If you’d like to learn more about expanding utterances of AAC users, join me at the AAC in the Cloud conference, sponsored by Cough Drop AAC, on June 26. There are many great speakers lined up. Hope to see you there. In the meantime, keep on talking!



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