AAC Users Communicate While Sheltering in Place

The world has changed dramatically in the past few weeks.  And - overnight it seems - we’ve become instant homeschoolers.  I know many parents who are scrambling to keep therapy going, and speech pathologists who are scrambling to provide teletherapy and digital resources.

But I don’t think parents of kids with complex communication needs, parents of AAC users, need to rush about doing anything different or more. I think it’s time to relax and enjoy your child; not try to replace his teacher.

So, what do I suggest you do?

Keep the routine.  
If you’ve read this blog often, you know I’ve written a lot about building language thought routines.  Routines are at the heart of early language learning.  Routines provide multiple opportunities to hear and practice the same language sequences over and over again.  Routines in our lives are repetitive, and the steps we follow and the words we use during those steps are predictable.

Research tells us that routines are at the heart of symbol and language development. Routines are reliable, consistent, constant, and repetitious frameworks that provide us with the opportunity to provide consistent language targets.  Routines identify predictable vocabulary and activities that use the same context-specific vocabulary consistently.  They also identify consistent core vocabulary.  Routines, in short, provide a consistent schedule of multiple opportunities to learn communication.

Every routine can be broken down into smaller and smaller components. Each of these components is influenced by the responses and reactions  of those involved.  The reactions and responses become symbols that are used in this interaction to signal to each other.
When the routine always follows the same sequence, the signal between the two people involved become shared symbols. Routines help us build symbolic awareness, and symbols become communicative when they come to have a more standardized or conventional meaning among a larger group.
We want to use consistent vocabulary and sequences within frequently occurring routines.  Utilize simple scripts within routines so that you are consistently modeling the same vocabulary and sentence types.  Make sure to model vocabulary used during routines that goes beyond requesting; to include commenting, providing information, asking questions, and other communication functions.

Have fun with your child doing what interests and engages him/her.  One way to “prompt” communication is to create temptations.  Place the toys near you or in your lap.  Look at your child expectantly, letting him know you want him to do something.  Model commenting, requesting, or labeling.  Or join him when he is playing and facilitate talking about what he is doing.  Play alongside him and talk about what you are doing.  Gradually integrate your play with his.  Make comments, ask questions - and answer them if necessary. 
Think about what you can do with this toy.  Is there more than 1 way to play with it? Can you have your child follow directions? Ask or answer questions? What are the opportunities for dialogue with this toy? Can your child construct a narrative around what he is doing with the toys/toy pieces? Can he tell about the function of each part?
If your child can follow 1 step directions, can you help him to follow 2-steps? If e can answer what doing questions about his play, but not who or where; then focus on asking those questions about who is doing the acting or where something is, etc.  If he can name objects but not describe them, focus on adjectives.  Remember, pronouns, actions, describing words, and spatial concepts are all core words.
Follow your child’s lead. Remember, genuine communication comes from the child talking about what (S)HE wants; not what you’ve decided.

This is always my top advice for parents wanting the time they spend with their child to be meaningful and helpful.  Reading to children is crucial for their social and academic success.  Reading to children with complex needs is crucial for providing them with context and background information that they haven’t gotten through real-life experiences.
Think out loud about what you are reading. This models how to deal with the vocabulary that is unfamiliar to the child.  Stop throughout the story to predict what might happen next. Offer opportunities for the child to turn the page - or ask you to do it.

If you are going to ask questions during reading, know that binary choice questions are the easiest to answer (giving 2 choices), followed by cloze procedures (fill in the blank), then open-ended Wh-questions.
Provide supports by making references to the text (“Look at the___”), providing that fill-in opportunity (“The boy is_”), using expansion (“Yes, the boy is_”), and modeling on the AAC system.

Read a variety of books; including leveled books with simple storylines, books with repeated lines (such as “Brown Bear”), books on a variety of topics.

I have a  variety of free resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that address shared reading and building language through play. You’ll also find some free activity calendars originally meant to fill the summer months, but certainly useful at this time.

Don’t stress about making school at home with your nonverbal or minimally verbal child.  Just spend time engaging with your child. Model language and AAC use in whatever you do. That’s actually the most perfect thing you can do.
Stay safe.   And keep on talking.

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