Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) refers to the use of different tools and techniques to help individuals with communication difficulties express themselves. These difficulties may arise due to a range of diagnoses such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other developmental disorders.
AAC is also a fantastic tool to support early communication skills in children with limited speech or language but no formal diagnosis. For children with communication difficulties, AAC can be an effective way to facilitate their communication skills and enhance their ability to participate in social activities.
AAC systems can be classified into two broad categories: unaided and aided communication systems. Unaided systems involve using gestures, sign language, and body language to communicate (they don’t require extra tools aside from the person’s own body). Aided systems, on the other hand, use devices such as picture boards, communication books, tablets, and speech-generating devices to facilitate communication. There are some really exciting high-technology options that can use head posture and eye-gaze to activate devices.
Integrating AAC with children involves creating an environment that supports their communication needs and providing them with the tools they need to express themselves. Partner-training is also key to the system’s success.
Here are some ways that parents, teachers, and caregivers can integrate AAC with children:
Create an AAC-friendly environment
To facilitate communication, it is important to create an environment that supports the use of AAC systems. This can involve ensuring that communication aids are easily accessible, that there is adequate lighting, and that there is a calm and quiet space for communication to take place. This can help children feel more comfortable and confident in using their AAC systems.
Encourage AAC use in daily activities
Children learn through repetition, and the more they are exposed to AAC systems, the more they are likely to use them. Research shows that partners showing value in the system is critical to uptake and we must model, model, model, just as we would speak to our babies before they are talking. If you wish to learn what modelling without expectations looks and sounds like, please head to https://www.theaaccoach.com/. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can encourage children to use their AAC systems in everyday activities such as mealtime, playtime, and social activities. This can help children feel more confident in their ability to communicate and help them develop their communication skills within the routines and exchanges that are most meaningful to them.
Provide AAC training
Parents, teachers, caregivers and Speech Pathologist’s can provide training on how to use AAC systems to children and to their communication partners. This can involve teaching them how to navigate communication systems; how to customize the vocabulary on the system as the child’s needs change; how to provide supportive strategies to the AAC user to extend their skills and how to integrate this system in daily play and routines. Training can also help children understand the different ways in which they can communicate, and which methods work best for them. Creating a culture of acceptance and total communication (all modes are welcome here!) where differences are celebrated and embraced can be cornerstone.
Collaborate with Speech and Language Pathologist’s
Speech and language therapists can play a vital role in integrating AAC with children. They can provide assessments of children’s communication abilities and provide guidance on which AAC systems are best suited for their needs. They can also provide training on how to use AAC systems and work with parents, teachers, and caregivers to create a communication plan that meets the child’s needs. Speech Pathologist’s are able to recommend the most suitable system for your child and to apply for funding for that system through the NDIS. If your child uses AAC and is approaching a transition to a new Centre or School, we recommend training in-house for as many educators as possible.
Use visual aids with the whole class
Visual aids such as picture boards and visual schedules can be helpful to use at a class level. This can help all students to have less anxiety about what might happen in their day, to follow routines with greater independence and to show that interacting using symbols is valued within the peer group. Most young children are really interested in AAC and enjoy using tools in this way!
Provide feedback and encouragement
Children with communication difficulties may struggle with confidence and self-esteem. Providing positive feedback and encouragement can help them feel more confident in using their AAC systems. This can involve acknowledging their attempts to communicate, praising their progress, and providing positive reinforcement when they use their AAC systems. You can repeat back what you think they expressed, check in with a reframe (e.g. “I think you were telling me something about a place – did you go to McDonalds last night to eat?”) and validate the positive emotions that come from expressing (e.g. “I can tell that felt good to tell me it’s yucky – it’s fun to share your opinion on that”).
Create opportunities for social interaction
Social interaction is a vital aspect of communication, and children with communication difficulties may struggle with social skills. Creating opportunities for social interaction can help children develop their communication skills and build relationships with others. This can involve playdates, group activities, and other social events that encourage communication and interaction.
Integrating AAC with children can have a significant impact on their communication skills and overall quality of life. By creating an environment that supports their communication needs, providing them with the tools they need to express themselves, and encouraging them to use their AAC systems, parents, teachers, and caregivers can help children develop their communication skills and build meaningful relationships with others.
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