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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Modeling to the Max: Using Aided Input to Teach AAC

Much has been made of using modeling to teach AAC use to children.  The term Aided Language Stimulation was first coined by Carol Goosens et al.
They said, “A language stimulation approach in which the facilitator points out picture symbols on the [individual’s] communication display with all ongoing language stimulation. Through the modeling process, the concept of using the pictorial symbols interactively is demonstrated for the individual.” (1992)

Aided Language Stimulation (ALgS) is based on the idea that babies/children learn language the same way; through the models provided by others in their environment.  If we only provide spoken input, how will they learn to use pictures?  Instead, we need to use symbols to say real things in real situations.
Language should not be a specific time in the school or home schedule.  Instead, use of language happens all the time, in all situations, and we model the use of symbols in naturally occurring contexts.  
What we don’t do is to create false scripts or testing-like situations, where we’re always probing and asking pointed questions.

How do I do this?
We start modeling where the child is currently in his communication and move 1 step ahead.  So, if the child isn’t using any words, start y modeling single words.  If the child is using single words, begin modeling 2-word combinations.
Begin with the end in mind.  The child may be limited in his communication now, but where do you expect him to be functioning in a long-term objective?  I usually think about beginning with a 36 or 40 location set-up for children who are emerging. I might hide some of those keys early on, but I want to have them in their “reserved spaces” so that location of the symbols is static. (See my post on stability of location)

When you’re modeling, think beyond “I want.”  Making requests is often the first thing we teach, so that children can get their wants and needs met and make choices or requests.  But too often that’s where people stop.  And there are so so many more reasons to communicate.  What happens when the child is hurt or sick? Or when someone has been mean or is annoying?  How do they ask for something “different?” 

We should be modeling greetings, asking and answering questions, expressing feelings, making comments, and more.  

We should also be modeling self-talk.  By being verbal about what we’re doing to find symbols/words or make a correction the child can take in how we communicate and use language.

Model operational use of the system.  PODD is excellent at this, with the navigation conventions built into the communication book.  With electronic systems, we should be modeling how to use the ‘back’ button, the ‘clear message window’ button, and how to turn the system on and off, among other targets.  Operational competency is often forgotten.

Model while you communicate to the child in all opportunities. It's the way they learn language.  And that's what we're all about!
So, keep on talking!  And keep on modeling!
Looking for some easy to use resources to help staff with modeling core words? Try my AAC Core Word Modeling Plan Posters for Staff.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

But He’ll Just Play With It! How a Communication Device is Not a Toy and How This is Not an Excuse

This blog post is going o begin with one of those, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard….” lines.  Over and over parents and professionals alike express their fears that the child will use the voice output AAC system like a toy; either banging repetitively on a single message or bouncing from page to page hitting random buttons.

It is the excuse heard most often after, “He isn’t smart enough.” (Never, of course put quite so bluntly.)  “He just plays with it,” - or some version of that - is tossed around by people who have clearly not learned how to teach a child to communicate. I say this with no disrespect; just a desire to have people be honest with me and with parents.

Yes, kids will often activate the same button repeatedly.  When a toddler says the same (usually new) words over and over again parents may despair, but none actually puts tape over the child’s mouth.  That is exactly what is being done, however, when the device is taken away from a child because he is “just playing with it.”

Yes, when verbal kids are bored they can talk to themselves under their breath or whisper to their neighbor.  And the teacher will admonish them. The AAC user who cannot adjust his own volume (or doesn’t recognize the need) can’t keep his boredom under wraps quite as easily.

And yes, there are undoubtedly kids who haven’t quite figured out the power of genuine communication yet, and just enjoy making verbal noise.

But teaching the child about the power of communication and how and when to use it; teaching the child how to use his AAC system, teaching the child about his ‘voice’ is our job.  I am a big believer in the notion that if a student doesn’t use his AAC system appropriately for genuine communication then we haven’t been successful in teaching him. We haven’t done our job. And we need to do better.

Step 1. Make sure the device is appropriate for this particular child and make sure it is core word based and robust. A system lacking the vocabulary a child wants to use isn’t going to be valued.

Step 2. Make sure everyone who interacts with the child with any frequency is familiar with the system and able to use it.  It’s hard to provide models when you can’t find the words.

Step 3. Make sure everyone is using Aided Language Stimulation - otherwise referred to as modeling.  Nonverbal children learn language through modeling just like their verbal peers. 

Step 4. Make sure the AAC system is always accessible.  Kate Ahern’s motto: “See me, See my AAC” is paramount.  The system should never be left in another room or on top of the filing cabinet.

Step 5. Make sure the environment and the people in it are all encouraging of genuine communication, are reinforcing the child’s communication attempts, and using appropriate strategies to encourage message production.

Playing with one’s voice should be a joyful thing. Don’t stifle that!  
Keep on talking, and let let your AAC users do likewise.

Looking for some materials to help staff know what to do with their AAC users?  Try these: