AAC Tips for the Classroom
Many AAC users spend a lot of their time in the classroom. Today’s blog post addresses some tips for AAC implementation in the classroom. These tips can be used by school staff, such as teachers or paraprofessionals, clinicians, and many others!
Tip: Respect all communication
AAC is not a test! When someone communicates, whether it is with their voice, gestures, or using their speech-generating device (SGD), honor their communication. How do we do that? Respond to the communication in a way that acknowledges their message, even if you don't understand it!
The student is communicating a message that is important to them. We must validate that communication! That teaches the AAC user that what they say is meaningful.
Forcing a user to "say it on your talker" isn't an effective intervention strategy. Instead, try using strategies like modeling an extension of their message or demonstrating how to repair a communication breakdown using a message on their device.
Tip: Make the AAC device accessible
Students should have easy access to their device at ALL times! If the student can't reach it or see it, they are not going to use it.
Consider accessories such as a strap, case, or mount that allow a user to access their device anywhere.
Include goals that address the user's independence in transporting their device. For example, have a goal that the user gets their device from their backpack to their desk every morning!
Tip: Integrate AAC into the classroom
Creating opportunities for a student to use their device is an easy way to get them using their AAC system in the classroom. Model new words or concepts that are being taught in the lesson plan, incorporate light-tech systems (e.g., core word boards) around the classroom, have a visual schedule with the symbols from the students language system depicting different classroom routines. There are many ways to get creative in bringing AAC to life in the classroom!
Tip: Don't limit AAC access
AAC isn't just for the speech room or just for the classroom. Communication happens all day, every day, across environments. That means AAC should be accessible everywhere!
One way to do this? Integrate multimodal communication methods in different spaces in the school. For example, having a communication board for the bathroom to prevent any water damage to the device or using small voice output switches for communicating messages on the playground to prevent damage to the device if it is dropped from a slide.
Tip: Know the device!
There are many different AAC language systems available! For example, the Forbes AAC ProSlate Series can run almost any AAC app on the market using iOS based software.
Take time to get to know the device and the language system layout for each AAC user.
Many AAC apps have the ability to be backed up through platforms such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Saving these pagesets through these backup options allows for the customization of a user's system to be maintained. It can also allow others to get to know their system!
Tip: Keep extra chargers around
It's not uncommon that communication devices run out of battery or arrive to school uncharged. It's super helpful to have extra chargers around!
Keeping spares in the classroom and in the speech therapy room allows the device to be charged during the time the student is seated.
Tip: Have light-tech and mid-tech AAC systems handy
Technology is not a sure thing! Devices get left at home, left in another classroom, lose battery charge, etc.
Having other communication systems available allows the user to still have a voice! Printed out communication boards, screenshots of pagesets, and voice output switches are just a few ideas!
Tip: Model, model, model
Modeling is the intervention strategy that is used to teach AAC by using AAC! What does it mean exactly? It's how clinicians, teachers, parents, and others show the AAC user how to use their device for communication.
This intervention strategy is based on the concept that language input provides a model for language development (ASHA, n.d.). Point to the word on the AAC system while you speak the word out loud. You say it as you show it!
Tip: Wait, and then wait some more!
Wait time is so crucial for students who use AAC as a means of communication. It provides them time to hear a spoken message, process it, think about what they want to say, then find the message on the device, combine words for a longer message, and then communicate the message. It takes time!
Giving an AAC user wait time allows them time to create their message they want to share. It provides them with the expectation that we want them to communicate!
Tip: Get other students involved
Using peers for aided AAC modeling is a great way to increase positive peer interactions and social engagement for AAC users.
How do you do it? Provide a peer with a device or a low-tech board depicting the student's AAC system. Give instructions to the peer on how to model and how to be a good communication partner. Facilitate communication in a semi-structured therapy activity.
Have more tips to add? Send them our way!
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (Practice Portal). www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Augmentative-and-Alternative-Communication/
Beukelman, D. R., & Light, J. C. (2020). Augmentative & alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (5th ed.). Brookes.
Katie Threlkeld, M.S., CCC-SLP is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Missouri and the Educational Program Developer at Forbes AAC. She has over 8 years of experience in AT and AAC assessment and treatment across the lifespan. Her goal is to provide all AAC users and those around them with evidence-based information for best practice in AAC.