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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is Your AAC System Organization In-Tact? Keep it Stable.

I hope everyone is ready for a good Thanksgiving (if you’re in the  U.S.), and I hope anyone who will be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with an aac user found and downloaded my Thanksgiving picture communication board.  

I’ve been posting free boards a lot these past few months, both here in my blog and in my TPT store   (or use the button on the right).  
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be putting together and posting boards for Christmas and Hannukah.  I’m sure there are lots of other cultural celebrations I’m missing, so I apologize. I just don’t know them all.

I’ve also been sharing some stories and information about AAC successes and ways to assess and implement.  I was reminded just this past week about just how important it is to have a single person who monitors and programs the aac device.

Over the years I have been called in to “fix” systems that have gotten out of control, either because the person doing the programming had no idea how to organize vocabulary in the system (or how to maintain the initial organization) or because too many people had added vocabulary willy nilly.

I like to use a file cabinet analogy, although it’s not entirely accurate.  But it works for the purpose.  We all have all of the many words we know stored in mental filing cabinets in our heads.  Some words are in multiple file drawers because they can be used in multiple ways, or relate to multiple topics.  We don’t consciously think about where to look for them when we need to use them.  For most of us, they just appear when we need them, once we’ve learned them. (Except for those of us getting older.)

Back when we were just learning a new word, we learned its definition, we saw it in context, we may have drawn pictures of it and used it in a sentence.  And once we knew it it got filed away.

For aac users, that filing system is concrete.  It is really there, it is the system, and they and their communication partners do need to think about where to find it.  Which page is it on?  What topic folder contains it?  Is it in more than one place?  How do I remember where it goes?
And because the filing cabinets - or folders - are there in black and white  (or high definition color, really) we need to be consciously thinking about where new words go.

As a part of the process of Aided Language Stimulation, we are modeling for the user not just how and when to use the words, but also how to find them in the aac system.  Our users can’t afford for words to keep moving around.  One  of the key factors in learning to use vocabulary in an aac system is its stability.  

So, when I see new folders popping up all over containing words that have been isolated into a folder for a specific IEP objective or ABA drill, I worry about how the users is going to learn - and why does he need to -  that when we’re sitting down at this task, these words are in this folder , and he doesn't have to learn where else they are.  But when he needs them for “real, genuine” communicating, they’re somewhere else.  It’s confusing.  

AAC users, like any other children, need to learn to use language in context.  They need to know where to find words for genuine interacting; not just for this academic drill.   As Lovaas himself once said, you can’t teach language in isolation.

I’m posting a link, here, to a free handout about IEP objectives for aac users.  I wrote it after hearing Gayle Porter and Linda Burkhart  speaking in a workshop about PODD and how to re-think how we wrote IEP objectives.  It sounds as if it’s much easier in Australia.

How are you writing goals for your aac user?  Do they represent genuine communication?  Share any ideas you have with me.  I’m always interested in your thoughts.


  1. Susan-- Thank you so much for your wonderful insight on this topic. I am an SLP who has been working with AAC users for most of my 30 years and I love your comments on one person being in charge of the device and "keeping it stable". It is a concept I "fight" often, especially with the introduction of the "easier formats" such as those programs on the iPad. I would also love to have more detailed info on the PODD. Do you have a website you would recommend?

  2. Susan, thanks for sharing this at Manic Monday. I enjoyed reading your post (although it is far from my range of experience) because your passion for what you do comes through so clearly! Keep up the good work!

  3. Vicki, the Spectronics in Oz website has had some good info on the PODD system. Linda Burghart's sight has some fabulous handouts from her and Gayle Porter, who designed them.