Updated: Feb 19, 2021
This Friday we're closing out our AAC awareness blog post series with some suggestions for how to effectively use AAC to meet your child’s communication needs!
For children who use AAC systems....
...model language using your child’s communication system.
If your child currently uses an AAC device to communicate, it is important that you model language using your child’s device to help them develop their communication skills. Think about how often we model spoken language for our children. Even when we are not directly talking to our kids, they are learning about how to communicate from the spoken language that they hear. It is important that children who use AAC get the same exposure to language using the means that is most accessible to them. To learn more about modeling using AAC, check out this video.
....ensure that your child has access to their communication system at all times.
For children who use spoken language, they never lose access to communication. But for children who use an AAC device to communicate, it is important to remember to keep the device with the child at all times so that they can communicate wherever they go. This means keeping a device’s charger handy, sending the device with the child to all of their activities, and educating individuals who interact with the child (school staff, coaches, babysitters) on how to turn on and use the device. If there are situations in which it is not feasible to use high-tech devices (e.g., in the swimming pool, during a messy pottery class), provide your child with a low-tech alternative (e.g., laminated picture cards or a laminated core board) that can be used in those situations. If you need help determining what vocabulary should be included in these low-tech systems, talk to your child’s SLP.
...educate and advocate!
Most individuals don’t really know what AAC is, so it may be necessary for you to teach others not only how to use an AAC device, but why it’s used is so important for your child. Communicate to your child’s teachers at school that your child’s device should not only be with your child as they move from class to class, but it should be turned on and easily accessible at all times. If your child likes to babble on the device (think selecting words repeatedly with no apparent communicative intent), communicate to teachers that this is not a behavior but rather an appropriate exploration of language which is developmentally appropriate as children are learning to talk. A device should never be taken away from a child if they are being “too talkative,” just as we would never restrain a child who is being “too talkative” using spoken communication.
For individuals with speech sound delays and disorders...
...provide supplemental AAC to improve communication and reduce frustration.
If your child struggles to be understood due to difficulty articulating speech sounds, it is important to give them an alternative means of communicating while their speech sounds develop. While your speech-language pathologist will work with your child to help them improve their intelligibility, it is important that your child has a means to successfully communicate their wants and needs when they are not understood. Talk to your SLP about what systems would work best for your child, whether it be pictures of preferred foods and toys stuck to the fridge for easy access, or a simple communication board that your child can use to supplement their spoken communication.
For young children with delayed language...
...use a Total Communication Approach.
Use of AAC can promote the growth of expressive and receptive vocabulary and the development of communicative intent in children under the age of 3 (Romski, Sevcik, Barton-Hulsey, & Whitmore, 2015; Brady, 2000; Drager et al., 2006). If your child is not yet using words, model language using signs, gestures, and pictures. For example, if you are asking your child to make a choice between two toys (ball/bubbles) you can put the objects out of reach on a table and model for your child how to point. If your child tolerates hand over hand assistance, you can gently guide their hand to help them point. You may also have photos of your child’s favorite toys. As your child reaches for/points to a preferred object, you can show them the picture and say “Ball! You want ball! Here’s ball!” Eventually, your child may begin pointing to or handing you pictures to request objects. You can also use preferred objects as an opportunity to practice basic signs. For example, as you roll a ball back and forth, you can sign “More!” before you roll it back to your child. You may even take your child’s hands to physically help them form the sign. By modeling AAC and spoken language, you are providing your child with more opportunities to experience success in communicating!
For children with expressive and receptive language disorders…
… work with your SLP to determine if AAC can help your child more successfully communicate.
Not every child requires a dedicated high-tech AAC device, but many children with expressive and receptive language disorders benefit from AAC to help them build their expressive and receptive language skills. Your SLP may recommend topic boards or pages with symbols of frequently used vocabulary for a specific activity. For example, if your child loves building blocks, your SLP may provide a topic board with the following words and symbols: I, want, big, little, red, yellow, green, build, put, on, take, off, build, block, and tower. As you play with your child, you can model language such as “I want red block” or “put on little block.”
Your SLP may also recommend a core board, or a page with symbols of frequently used vocabulary words that can generalize across activities. For example, a simple core board may include the words more, all done, yes, and no. A larger core board may include words like I, want, need, help, food, drink, toys, and bathroom. The point of a core board is to help your child more easily communicate frequently used vocabulary and phrases (e.g., I want more, I need help, I need bathroom).
For children with language disorders, having a visual representation of language is often beneficial in helping them better organize their language, formulate sentences, and expand their utterances. Talk to your child’s SLP about ways in which you can incorporate AAC at home to support your child in their communication development!
We hope that this blog series has helped you to better understand AAC and recognize ways in which you can use AAC at home to support your child’s communication development. For more information about how you can develop your child’s communication skills, call our SLP team at (781) 239-0100.
Written by Megan Romanczyk, M.S. CF-SLP
Brady, N. C. (2000). Improved comprehension of object names following voice output communication aid use: Two case studies. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 16, 197–204.
Drager, K. D. R., Postal, V. J., Carroulus, L., Castellano, M., Gagliano, C., & Glynn, J. (2006). The effect of aided language modeling on symbol comprehension and production in 2 preschoolers with autism. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15, 112–125.
Romski, M., Sevcik, R. A., Barton-Hulsey, A., & Whitmore, A. S. (2015). Early intervention and AAC: What a difference 30 years makes. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31, 181–202.