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AAC in the Water

Summer is in full force! Summer not only means time off from school, but it also means water!

Electronic AAC tools around water are at risk for damaging the hardware of the device. Does this mean that those with complex communication needs should not participate in summer activities? No! Does it mean they are not allowed access to AAC while participating in outdoor summer activities? Absolutely not!

  • In fact, ASHA designates naturalistic environments as the optimal location for AAC implementation efforts to take place in to maximize generalization and functional use of the AAC system (ASHA, n.d.). You cannot get a more natural environment than the summery outdoors!

Individuals with complex communication needs are to have access to and know how to use a variety of AAC tools, as different tools are more practical to be used in different environments and contexts, such as outdoors around snow and water (ASHA, n.d.). AAC tools that are ready for summer fun include:

  • Light-tech boards – this is a great option to provide communicators with access to AAC and a reliable and effective method of communication without worrying about damage to the device hardware by water droplets. It is important that the light-tech core board is an exact replica (or closely resembles if it is not possible to have an exact replica) of the main page of core words from the communicator’s electronic AAC system.

  • PicSeePal – this is a low-cost durable tool that makes paper-based light-tech communication boards waterproof and buoyant. It can house multiple boards simultaneously, allowing communicators access to core and fringe vocabulary to generate spontaneous novel utterances.

Photo used with permission from Picseepal


You can also make your own waterproof light-tech AAC tools with minimal effort, cost, and time. Once you obtain light-tech AAC materials, get to taping with Gorilla Crystal Clear Duct Tape to make a(n):

  • AAC ice pack – this is a buoyant waterproof light-tech board. Put a dish sponge in a Ziploc XL Sandwich Bag. Place the light-tech board in front of the dish sponge so that the light-tech board is clearly visible through the Ziploc bag and zip the bag closed. Horizontally wrap the duct tape around the top of the sandwich bag opening to prevent it from opening and stop water from leaking into the bag.

Photo used with permission from Mary Katherine Dally

https://www.instagram.com/aacforall

  • AAC (un)ice pack – this is an element proof light-tech board great for the beach. Put a dish sponge in a Ziploc XL Sandwich Bag. Place the light-tech board in the Ziploc bag so that it is clearly visible through the Ziploc bag and zip the bag closed. Horizontally wrap the duct tape around the top of the sandwich bag opening to prevent it from opening and stop water from leaking into the bag.

Photo used with permission from Mary Katherine Dally

https://www.instagram.com/aacforall

  • Floating core board – this is a buoyant waterproof light-tech board. Put the light-tech board on the side of a square plastic 1-gallon container. Secure and cover the light-tech board with duct tape. Make sure to cover the entire light-tech board with duct tape to make it waterproof and keep the lid on to keep the container floating!

  • Spinning core board – this is a life-size waterproof light-tech board that communicators can build short utterances with on (wet)land. You will first need to obtain transparent paper. Print large sized AAC symbols and corresponding core vocabulary on the transparent paper and cut them out. You will then need to obtain jumbo clamp foam pool noodles and cut them into short pieces. Place one symbol and corresponding core vocabulary on each piece of the pool noodle on one side and secure and cover the piece of paper with duct tape. Obtain PVC pipes (make sure they are the same diameter as the pool noodle openings) and connectors and put them together to create columns. Clamp on each of the short pieces of the pool noodle that has symbol and corresponding core vocabulary on it to the PVC pipes. The communicator can build utterances on the spinning core board by turning each piece of pool noodle around the PVC pipes.

***Note that it is important to closely match the color, symbol type, and layout of the communicator’s electronic AAC system when creating the spinning core board.***

  • AAC float – this is AAC on an innertube! Put the light-tech board on the side of a swim tube. Secure and cover the light-tech board with duct tape. Make sure to cover the entire light-tech board with duct tape to make it waterproof.

Photo used with permission from Mary Katherine Dally

https://www.instagram.com/aacforall


An AAC tool is only as effective as the implementation efforts accompanying it.


Autonomous communicators are to have the skills to fulfill all four of the communicative functions, which are expressing wants and needs, transferring information, establishing and maintaining social closeness (i.e., interpersonal relationships), and displaying appropriate social etiquette (e.g., greetings, closers, maintaining conversations, etc.; Beukelman & Light, 2020).

  • Playing in the water is much more fun with peers AND it facilitates engaging, meaningful, and motivating social communication opportunities, so involve the communicator’s sibling(s) and/or friends in your summer fun!

  • It is important to pause the action for a few seconds to provide the communicator with a chance to generate utterances on their AAC system and join the communication fun. Communication partners should model relevant language and communication functions when appropriate to facilitate language and communication skill growth.

Thoughtful preparation is necessary when integrating AAC into summer outdoor activities which can be daunting and stressful, but optimal AAC implementation and learning occurs in naturalistic and engaging contexts, such the wet summery outdoors.

  • Take steps to provide access to AAC in the natural elements with the appropriate considerations. Always have a form of aided AAC present and accessible to capitalize on naturally occurring engaging communication opportunities of all forms and functions in the summer sun and water!

References

Hannah Foley, B.A. is the Content Creator at Forbes AAC. She has over four years of experience in AAC education and implementation, in addition to over 24 years of personal experience using AAC and AT tools to navigate society as someone who has a (dis)ability. Hannah is dedicated to providing quality training and implementation resources to support teams to facilitate the integration of AAC into all of life's activities to maximize the communicative skill development and meaningful engagement of those who use AAC.

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