Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Our AAC users need a lot of skills to be able to use their ‘talking tool’ competently.  I call it a tool, because that is what it is; a tool that individuals can use to help them to communicate with the world around them. And it is our job to teach them how to use the tool.

Janice Light listed 4 areas of competency that AAC users need to develop:


Linguistic refers to receptive and expressive language skills; including grammar, syntax, word relationships

Social refers to those social skills needed to communicate; such as asking & answering questions, greetings, repairing breakdowns

Operational refers to the ability to use the system; such as powering a device on and off, or moving between pages

Strategic refers to understanding and use of the skills needed to facilitate communication; such as getting a partner’s attention

[You can learn more about this is my AAC Implementation Handbook, available here].

Today I’d like to talk for a minute about the operation skills needed to use an AAC system; in particular the navigating between pages that are necessary in any dynamic display system (note that in addition to electronic devices this also includes the navigation conventions of a PODD book or other flip-book-type system).
The ability - or inability - to navigate is often cited as a reason why a child is not given a dynamic display device.  But, like any skill, this is something that needs to be taught.

 One of the ways we teach this skill - as with any skill in AAC use - Aided Language Stimulation is our friend.  It is always the first step in AAC implementation.  Children who need to use pictures to communicate need to see models of others using this language system, just as speaking children need to hear us talk.

Unfortunately, while using ALgS is crucial, it is not always sufficient  For many of our students more direct instruction is required.  One of the important skills in AAC use is that of categorization.
Now, I’m sure all the SLPs out there reading this will recognize a skill we spend a LOT of time working on with many of our children receiving therapy.  This skill helps a child know that if he wants an apple, he needs to look in the “Food” page, and then, maybe, even on the “fruits” page.  If he wants to talk about where he went over the weekend, he'll need to find the “Places” page.  You get the idea.

Fortunately, we don’t necessarily need anything fancy or new or different to teach categorization skills to our AAC users.  All of the therapy materials you are using to work on these skills can be used with these children.  Only the mode of response is different.  Rather than naming the category, or listing its members orally, the AAC user will need to find the item after navigating to that page.
The AAC user needs to understand that to get to a specific item, he will need to find its category page.

One of the fun ways I work on this skill is with sorting tasks and games.  For instance, in my Category Catch All resource, students sort transportation into air, land, and sea vehicles, or sort animals into zoo, ocean or farm habitats.

Another favorite is Categorizing & Describing Flower Power.  There are many different ways of sorting and categorizing items in this resource; including general categories (animals, foods, clothing), descriptor (green things from red things and bumpy things from smooth things), family members, land forms, and more.

With either of these resources - or using whatever you have in your therapy room or home - you have the student respond using their “voice” - their AAC system. In this way they get practice with finding where things are, without it feeling like a test.  Turning learning into a game helps to keep kids engaged.

AAC users need to learn where to find words in their AAC system, but without us constantly asking them to “Find (X).” or “Point to (Y).”

Till next time, keep sorting, and….Keep on talking!