Supporting Parents and Colleagues in Diverse Communities

Supporting Parents and Colleagues in Diverse Communities

I’ve shared before that we must view our young AAC users as a whole. As SLPs we need to consider each student’s home environment, their culture and all those times at school when we aren’t around to watch and model AAC for them.  AAC use needs to occur everywhere, if the child is going to be successful with it.

Which means supporting and working with parents of emerging AAC users. It also means working with colleagues to support students and creating a team environment. As SLPs there is a lot we can do in this space. Including understanding the parents, helping them overcome barriers to access and seeking their input into plans.

Barriers families face

I work in a Title 1 school in the US and the families I work with often face barriers to getting access to AAC for their child.

Families, particularly those from diverse backgrounds are often not aware of their right to speak out and ask for things for their children. Or they don’t feel comfortable doing it.

That is if they know. For many of the families I work with, they are new to this country and don’t  realize AAC devices even exist or that services are available. There is often not a translator to help them ask.

If they do know to ask, in many states there is a lot of red tape and phone calls around accessing the support. Adding this on to stresses that families are already facing can just be too much.

As SLPs we can advocate for the family and influence what device they get. We also need to keep advocating after that first device.  We can make sure the student’s AAC changes with them as they grow. The child may have gotten a Big Mac and now has more capability. We  need to make sure they have access to that. We can also advocate when devices get old or break. It’s so important to keep that connection with the parents and advocate for them.

If the student needs AAC to access education then it is the school’s job to provide it. We can make parents aware of this.

Involving parents (and colleagues)

Your student is not going to get the best outcomes if we don’t involve parents and our colleagues in supporting the students. I get a lot of questions about how to do this. It isn’t always easy but it is possible by:

  • Building connections. As SLPs it’s our job to talk to the teacher and connect. If you’re doing an AAC evaluation then try to include everyone on the team. Give whoever is going to work with the child an opportunity to provide input and feel like they’re part of the whole process.
  • Keep lines of communication open at all times. Ask the teacher what are their goals for the student, what is in their IEP and how you can you help them to reach these goals. Asking where the communication breakdowns are right now is a great place to start.
  • Don’t make assumptions with parents. It’s important we don’t lead with our egos. Seek first to understand which may mean backing up a bit and slowing down. Just know it’s going to be a process. It isn’t going to be an overnight change. It takes years and years of building and growing. Making sure to involve everyone where you can.
  • Tell success stories. Have examples to share with colleagues and parents. You have to share these stories and get people excited and to see the possibilities. We want them to see what could happen.
  • Accept people will make assumptions about you. When you go into a community for the first time, people will make assumptions about you and this is ok. Don’t think you can change those assumptions immediately. Hang in there and keep talking to people. Attend everything you’re invited to.
  • Listen. I’m never the loudest person in the room, I’m more a person who watches. I don’t go in thinking I know everything. I let people show me who they are and have respect when learning about a different culture. I want my highest spirit to meet their highest spirit.
  • No professional jargon. Be really aware of not using professional jargon when working with families. Use parent friendly language and then introduce what the different terms we use all the time mean. This then helps them navigate the system without you.
  • Include the family. A key question is to ask parents is  “what would you like your child to communicate?” You can also program family names into devices.

Promoting Culturally Responsive Therapy

I want the children I work with to embrace their communities and I want to encourage other SLPs to do this too. To facilitate this I do the following:

  • Parent Groups. I’ve been facilitating these once a month via Zoom. They’ve been such great groups. I include parents and teachers and we talk about things like AAC and the importance of modeling as well as providing an opportunity for questions and answers. The parents have gotten to connect with each other which is so important.
  • Free Facebook Group. I’ve got a free Facebook Group for speech therapists, speech therapist assistants, teachers and instructional assistants who work with children who use and/or need Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC). This is a space to ask questions without judgement and to connect with others. You can request to join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theAACconnection.
  • Speaking at conventions. I often speak at local and national conventions. Baslcally any opportunity where I get to share the message about AAC and culturally responsive therapy.

There is so much we can do to support our families and colleagues and I love seeing parents sharing their culture with their children.

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Using AAC Core Boards

Using AAC Core Boards

AAC core boards combine pictures and words of core vocabulary to support communication. Core vocabulary is vocabulary that is commonly used such as “You”, “I”, “Get”, “Do” and “Where”. Core vocabulary refers a small number of words that make up >70-90% of what we say on a daily basis. While many of the AAC apps have core words built in, there are also low tech options that can be printed out and glued to poster board.

In using core boards we point to the words while we’re talking. We say things like “want more?” “you like it”. They are wonderful tools for modeling.

We’re giving each child a visual that they can see and eventually point to. The words will always be in the same place (so they don’t have to search for them). The visual cue helps the student identify the word and by combining the visual with a written word, we can start to increase a student’s literacy as well.

Tips for using core boards

  1. Do it consistently. Use the core board every day. The vocabulary on the core board is intentionally selected as words that your child will use regularly. By focusing on these words we are teaching a functional vocabulary. Your child can use these words all day, everyday, everywhere: from classroom to playground to cafeteria to home.
  2. Start by modelling them. At first don’t expect your child to point to words, it’s enough for you to model them, so they can hear and see them. Be patient.
  3. Use it for more than requesting. We often start with “I want” as there is a lot of motivation for students to ask that question. But we don’t want that to be the only thing they learn. Start modelling other phrases such as “I like” or “I go” to encourage communication.
  4. Do fun activities. Think of ways that you can use the core board for fun activities.  
  5. In being helpful, don’t forget to model. Sometimes we’re so busy being helpful we miss great modeling opportunities. If a student is asking you for help with something, rather than simply helping them, whip out the core board and model the word help without demanding an immediate response.
  6. Use expectant pauses. Are you letting your student say what they want to say and leaving expectant pauses? Or are you trying to make your student say what you want him to say. Make sure you give your student time to think and answer.
  7. Model mistakes. We need to model making mistakes and how to repair them too. Just like learning to walk, it’s okay to stumble and fall. As long as you keep going.

To start or build on using core boards, I’ve put together a document setting out where you can download free core boards to get you started. Click here to download your copy. 

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Using AAC Core Boards
AAC Core Modeling: I, like Apples & Bananas Song

AAC Core Modeling: I, like Apples & Bananas Song

Make modeling and using core vocabulary fun and engaging with songs. Using an AAC core communication board speech therapists and parents will love this Apple and Bananas song.

What is modeling? Simply put, we (the communication partner) point to words on a communication board or press words on AAC system as we speak. Your child needs to see you doing this so he knows how.