As with all communicators, we work to teach our AAC users the hows and whys of communicating. The etiquette of interactions is a real thing. We teach them not to yell out during a lesson, not to say rude words to friends, maybe even to say "I have something to say" to preface an important message.
But are we evaluating our own interactions with AAC users? Are we helping other AAC supporters learn how to appropriately interact with communicators? How do our interactions look and are we considering the importance of social etiquette when we engage with communicators?
Here are a few AAC Etiquette suggestions to help us all better respect and encourage communication:
Don't take their device – be careful about touching their device without permission
While it may be tempting to pull their device over to quickly edit a button or model a word, we must remember that this is THEIR voice and we need to treat it that way. If we take their device away, how can they communicate? If we get to be the one who chooses what happens to the device all the time, then is it really for their use, or is it for ours? We should ask for permission and be sure we respect the communicator as the "owner" of the device – because, after all, this is how their voice is heard.
Respect screen privacy
Even though it may be hard not to, try not to read over a communicator's shoulder or guess at the message they are composing without their permission. Give them the time and the encouragement to compose the full message THEY want to share. If we step in to finish their sentence or read before they are done composing the phrase, we may give the impression that their words are not worth waiting for and that they don't need to finish because we can understand just what they want to say on our own (even though we can't). Be patient, be expectant, ask for clarification or give encouragement when needed ("I wonder what you have to say about that?"), but allow people the autonomy to compose and share their thoughts in their own words and their own timing.
Talk to the person, not the device
This one is pretty clear, but it can get tricky when the device is the place where the speech is vocalized. Still, we have to remember the device is just a tool to share the message of the person. Try hard to keep your overall attention on the person, not the speech board.
Don't assume they only want to talk about one favored topic
Sure, everyone has favorites and most people love the chance to talk about that preferred topic. However, no one limits their thoughts and feelings to just one arena. We all have things to say on a number of topics. So, yes, ask about favorites, but maybe pull in some words from today's lesson, current events, or pop culture. Model and speak about a number of topics and situations to help communicators see you are interested in ANYTHING they have to say.
Use AAC with others, not just the AAC user
When a person communicates using AAC, we try to speak to them in that language to help them understand and learn. However, AAC is a GREAT way to engage with ALL budding communicators and language learners. AAC reinforces words and ideas and using AAC with people who can speak fortifies language components. Demonstrate that AAC is a normal and acceptable way to communicate for anyone.
Don't respond until the message is complete
It's rude to interrupt a speaking person when they are in the middle of their message, and that is also true with an AAC user. Allow the person the chance to compose their thoughts fully and share the completed message before you choose to respond. We just might be surprised where their message is headed.
Don't pile too many questions or comments on at once
It takes time to put together an AAC message. That means that if we throw out multiple questions or comments at once, we muddle the conversation and make it difficult to respond or interact. Ask a question then give a person the chance to reply or comment before moving on. If the conversation has already progressed around the AAC communicator, we can pull the group back and simply say, "I think Julie has something to say about that previous topic. What do you think, Julie." We can set the example and help others better understand how they too can support AAC users and communication.
Respect the communicator's message, and acknowledge it even if you don't fully understand or agree
Maybe the most important piece of etiquette when it comes to AAC is to honor every single communication. Sometimes that can be hard when we are in the middle of a group or conversation, but this doesn't have to be complex. We might only be able to say, "I heard you there, Braxton" or "That's an interesting word to choose." That is so much better than nothing. Whenever possible, comment on an AAC user's message or ask clarifying questions as needed. It's normal not to understand everything a person says, but we can demonstrate that their words matter by listening with intent and encouraging others to do the same.
What did we miss? What would you add? We'd love to hear your thoughts! Share your insights with us and we'll do our best to share those with the community moving forward.
Melissa is the CoughDrop Director of Marketing and Support -- working with AAC communicators & teams.