One of my strongest beliefs is that all children with complex communication needs should have access to support regardless of their background. As SLPs we have an important role to play in ensuring this.
But I know it can feel intimidating at first. Particularly if you’re also navigating AAC for the first time. I recently did an interview with Tamara Anderson from Building Successful Lives on this topic. You can find the interview here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeVMsp3xv-4
If video isn’t your thing, I’ve summarised why this is important to me and ways to support your students.
Why is getting AAC to all children who need it important?
It’s not just Alternative!
AAC has two AAs. But we focus on the alternative rather than the augmentative. It’s supporting the child with what they already have. If the child has very limited verbal speech then using AAC can be a bridge to developing bigger language skills.
It can also provide an alternative way for the child to communicate when they’re having a communication breakdown or when they’re really tired. I often see students with autism who under times of great stress or during times of sensory overload find visual communication easier than using verbal speech.
It’s important not to wait. We want to get AAC into a kid’s hands as soon as we think they need it. They can start building those important language skills straight away so they’re not behind.
Advocating for and creating diverse materials for AAC users with complex communication needs
There is so much you can do as an SLP in advocating for and creating diverse materials.
1.View the child as a whole. The first place I like to start is by creating a climate and environment where we’re viewing each child as a whole. This means not just looking at his disability or where he needs help with communication. It also means what environments are they communicating in at school and at home. This is going to be a way for them to communicate wherever they are, so thinking about that is a great place to start.
2.Include language spoken at home. We used to think that it was confusing for the child if they were using multiple languages. Studies have now shown this isn’t the case. Children with complex communication needs can be bilingual or even multilingual. This ties back into viewing the child as a whole. We don’t want to alienate parents from children. We want children to embrace their home life and culture.
Don’t just think about the language but also the different phrases they might use at home. There is a lot to think about. Words don’t always translate directly. You might find it difficult to find a translator if the language used at home isn’t a common language in your community. But I promise your efforts will be rewarded.
3.Appropriate icons and symbols. Can your children see themselves reflected in their apps and core boards? The skin tone of the symbols can play a part in this. In the last year some of the big AAC companies (Touchchat and Proloquo2go) are making it so much easier for us as SLPs to adjust the symbols in one step. Others are coming on board so keep an eye on the website of the apps your students are using.
4.What voice are you using? If you are using computer generated voices can you choose one to sound as much like the student would sound if they could speak? Acapela Group is doing wonderful work to create more diverse voices.
Increasing the language and literacy of AAC users
As well as the bigger picture activities listed above there are simpler actions we can take to increase the language and literacy of AAC users:
· Modelling. I talk a lot about the importance of modelling. That is we as the communication partner use the communication device as well. Even if you only have a core vocabulary board you can point too.
· Incorporating words. Your student may not be able to read, but they can often recognise words. If you’re doing a visual schedule you can still add words as the student can recognise what words are. They can have letter awareness.
We can also encourage playing with letters. This could be through playing with magnet letters or using a keyboard.
· Give them the gift of story. We all have wonderful stories to share and giving students the gift of story is one of my favourite things to do. To start, have some active engagement in books. Get creative and make it fun. If children have been read to in a boring way when they see a book come out they think it’s time to go to sleep.
See if you can figure out how to make it fun and exciting. I like using puppets, the Tarheel Reader site, and interactive books with velcro pieces. It’s all about not being boring. Children understand the power of stories.
Just like with any kid we want to find a book that the child is interested in. For example, If a child likes cars then find a book on cars.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post and are looking for ways to build on your knowledge then some great ways to do this are:
Reach out to other SLPs in your region or even on social media. On Instagram search on the hashtag #AAC. There are amazing SLPs on Instagram sharing all about AAC.
You can get so hung up on AAC and how complex it is. But at the end of the day… it’s just language and we know what language is. Look at the child and see where they are in their communication skills. All kids are communicating even if not verbal. Figure out what the next step is. Where do you want them to get?
Work out how the device works – google the devices – there are lots of videos out there. Reach out to other SLPs if you get stuck.
If a student needs a device and they don’t have one, do you have an AAC specialist in your district and what is the policy? Start doing the research. We don’t want our students to miss out.
It may all seem very daunting but it’s the best feeling when you can give a voice to a student and a family.
As SLPs we often work with emergent communicators. How we model with them needs to be tailored to their specific needs. Below I share more about what an emergent communicator is and my best tips for using AAC modelling with them.
What is an Emergent Communicator
Emergent communicators can use the following modes of communication:
other non-symbolic modes of communication. For example: smiling, reaching for what they want, taking your hand to what they want. They make wants known indicated by reaching toward something, looking at it, and leg movements.
Introducing AAC to Emergent Communicators
My number one tip for introducing AAC to emergent communicators is to remember beginning communicators talk about what they want to talk about. Make sure what you are modelling is meaningful and hopefully fun to them.
Once you are communicating about something they are interested in, then it’s important to model without expectation. Invite don’t demand that they take part in the activity.
Being prepared as an SLP
As an SLP, it can feel intimidating navigating how to use a device and knowing what to do when using AAC. Particularly if it’s the first time you’ve worked with AAC or a particular device.
If this is you, then quickly get familiar with the device. Most devices are fairly straightforward to use once you’ve used them a few times. I’ve been sharing reviews of devices and apps on Instagram. You can find them in my Instagram feed.
I recommend knowing a few basics and starting with core words like in, put, finished, more, want, like, go. Choose an activity that happens everyday like snack time, circle time, lining up time. That way you’ll get lots of practice every day.
Remembering to keep it fun, simple, consistent and real.
Setting goals is a great way to help you do this. To help you set AAC goals, I’ve created the Ultimate AAC Goal Planning Blueprint which you can download for free here.
Are you a new school SLP who’d like an insider look at Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)? Writing a good IEP and conducting a successful IEP meeting are two really vital skills. This video shares 5 tips that are simple game changers for how to approach your next IEP.
How do you deal with behavior issues? Behavior Management for the SLP is so important. I know when I have groups of busy, excited, talkative students sometimes they don’t automatically do what I want them too.[spacer height=”20px”]
I don’t want to spend my whole session dealing with behavior. Pretty sure you don’t either. But the reality is, many times you will have to teach students how you want them to behave.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Have you got four minutes to help you manage behavior in your speech room? That’s all the time it takes to read these tips on using visuals and routines to set-up and maintain good listening behaviors in your students. The listening visuals are included as handouts in the FREE School SLP Like a Boss Smart Start Kit. (If you don’t have it yet, no worries, just click on the pink rectangle below)[spacer height=”20px”]
Today I want to give you a quick read (seriously less than 5 minutes) giving you an idea of how you might want to use the behavior handouts in your speech room. The tools I use for classroom behavior management are included in the kit: listening posters and whole brain posters. These visuals are a life-saver, they serve as a constant reminder and have the added bonus of being easier for our language impaired students to understand. (Sometimes you know they’re just hearing our words sound like “blah blah blah”).[spacer height=”20px”]
It’s important to set expectations from the very beginning. By this I don’t mean just pointing to the posters once. Now’s the time to teach the meaning of the posters and foster a group connection. For example tell them, “In the speech room we are good listeners. We listen with our heart, our eyes, our ears, our mouth and our bodies.” You are giving them specific information so they know exactly what you want from them. Much more clear than “you need to be a good listener”[spacer height=”20px”]
Here’s what you need to get started:[spacer height=”20px”]
Listening Posters (pgs 10-15)
Print and laminate these posters. Place them where your students can see them from your therapy table. These are great for the primary grades.[spacer height=”20px”]
Explain each poster. For example: “This is what we need to do to be a good listener.” Point to each picture, read caption and demonstrate. Have the students show their eyes looking, ears listening, etc. After you go through all the posters, have students say them with you as you point and show you again. This is so worth taking the time to do. Remember you want to set them up for success. [spacer height=”20px”]
As you go through an activity, catch your students doing the right thing. Don’t wait until you have to say “where are your looking eyes?”. Give some positive feedback. “I like how Johnny’s eyes are looking right at me. I know he’s listening.” Kids need ten positive statements to every negative. Positive praise helps children become more aware of what they’re doing well, and more excited to continue trying. [spacer height=”20px”]
Make your feedback specific. It’s so easy to just say “good job”. But when we give specific praise, students know exactly what they are doing right and why you are happy about it. So instead of “great job”,try, “You are sitting quietly and looking at me, I know that you are learning”.
When you do need to give a verbal reminder to get the behavior you want, point to the poster while you say “Remember, mouth quiet”. And then fade the verbal prompts and just point.[spacer height=”20px”]
Whole Brain Teaching
I also have had really great success with the Whole Brain Teaching posters. I use these to give my busy little friends a routine to follow right when they come into the room. As soon as they sit down, we go through each rule. This is really fun and kind of bonding. Once they learn them, I let a different student be the leader each time. I use these with primary students. But you can use them with older students too. You just need to have different posters and a more age appropriate way to say the rules and make the motions.[spacer height=”20px”]
Go to the FREE Whole Brain link on page 9 in your School SLP Like a Boss Smart Start kit. Print and laminate the Whole Brain Posters. Click on the video link to see an example of how they are used. [spacer height=”20px”]
I hope these tips have you on your way to great behavior management. Following these will help you foster better relationships with your students and help them feel secure knowing exactly what the speech room boundaries and expectations are.[spacer height=”20px”]
You’ve got this,
Want to know more? Here’s what two amazing school SLP bloggers do for behavior management:[spacer height=”20px”]
Cheri from Super Power Speech shares some great tips on using visuals. Check out her blog post here. (Plus there is a great visual freebie)