Empowering AAC Communication in Schools: Beyond Basic Requests and Single Core Words

 In schools, students using AAC often remain stuck in requesting mode without exploring other communication functions. The limited vocabulary available can hinder effective communication for some, while others lack guidance on progressing beyond requests. School-based SLPs recognize various communicative intents and message types possible with appropriate vocabulary, skills, and motivation. However, limited access to students makes it challenging to develop comprehensive language skills, relying on teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents, many of whom lack AAC implementation training, to model commenting, protesting, greeting, and more.

During IEP meetings, my focus lies in expanding students' consistent use of diverse communication functions.

Janice Light (1988, 1997) identifies four primary reasons for communication:

1. Expressing needs and wants (commonly addressed).

2. Developing social closeness.

3. Exchanging information (often the sole focus in classrooms).

4. Fulfilling social etiquette routines.

Students communicate to express preferences, make choices, request objects or actions, share comments, information, and emotions, and engage in storytelling and asserting independence. In classrooms, communication opportunities often revolve around providing or requesting information related to the curriculum.

Move beyond single core words

To broaden communication functions, several effective strategies can be employed, such as:

1. Introducing thematic units and conversation starters: Thematic units immerse students in specific topics for an extended period, allowing exploration and practice of localized vocabulary (e.g., ocean animals) and language skills like describing and comparing.

2. Incorporating conversational topics of interest: Allowing students to discuss subjects they find engaging enhances motivation and encourages more detailed responses.

3. Integrating interactive activities: Activities like cooking, storytelling, joke-telling, and game playing provide structured opportunities for communication beyond the typical classroom routine, promoting interactive language use, including commenting and expressing emotions.

By adopting these strategies, schools can enrich students' AAC communication experiences and foster a more diverse and meaningful range of interactions, empowering them to thrive socially and academically.

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