Winter is in full force! Winter not only means time off from school (or work), but it also means snow! When there is snow on the ground, children love to play in it, get buried in it, bury things in it, go skiing and/or sledding, and get the snow EVERYWHERE!
Snow is made of water, which means that when it encounters an object or body part, it immediately begins to melt and get whatever surface it is on wet.
For those who use electronic AAC tools, snow (especially melting snow) on speech-generating devices (SGD) makes most people cringe at the thought of the water damaging the hardware of the device.
Does this mean that those with complex communication needs should not participate in outdoor winter activities? No! Does it mean they are not allowed access to AAC while participating in outdoor winter 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 naturalistic environment than the wintery 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.). An AAC system that is ready to brave the elements includes:
Electronic speech-generating device, such as a ProSlate™ Series or WinSlate™ Series - while those who use a WinSlate are likely to solely use the device when it is mounted on their mobility device in the optimal position for access via an alternative access method, it is protected by Gorilla Glass and a strong, rugged case, so no dirt and rocks can damage its hardware. The ProSlate 10D is the most popular of the ProSlate Series, which is to no surprise! The ProSlate 10D is dust and splash resistant, which makes it possible to be taken with to communicate while playing in the snow (it should not be immersed in the snow!).
Are you thinking, “But how can the individual activate the touchscreen when they are wearing gloves or mittens?”?
We know that those with fine motor skill deficits still access their AAC device using direct selection via touch, but they may use parts of their hand other than fingertips. Therefore, traditional touchscreen gloves will not be effective in activating their AAC device as the conductive material is only on the glove fingertips.
However, there are affordable commercially available gloves (such as Glider Gloves) that are entirely made of conductive material which allows the learner to activate the touchscreen of their AAC device with any part of their hand while keeping their hand protected from the cold.
Non-electronic AAC, such as printable paper-based light-tech core board - a light-tech core board is a great option to provide learners with access to AAC and a reliable and effective method of communication without worrying about water damage to the device hardware by snow 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 individual’s electronic AAC system.
There are a few light-tech core boards available in the Member Resources Area. If lamination is not convenient, a transparent plastic Ziploc bag will make the light-tech core board water resistant and withstand water and snow. Light-tech core boards are a perfect option if you think your learner may immerse their electronic speech-generating device in the snow!
Multi-modal communication - those with complex communication needs use (and should be encouraged to use) many forms of communication aside from the language and symbols on their AAC device, such as speech, gestures, facial expressions, manual signs, body language, verbalizations, and vocalizations (ASHA, n.d.).
Playing in the snow is a prime opportunity to employ such multimodal communication strategies!
Remember that those with complex communication needs 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 snow is much more fun when doing so with siblings and/or friends AND it facilitates engaging, meaningful, and motivating social communication opportunities, so involve the individual’s sibling(s) and/or friends in your wintery adventure!
It is important to pause the action for a few seconds to provide the individual with complex communication needs 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.
Take a look at this resource from Forbes AAC on Modeling for AAC!
Thoughtful preparation is necessary when integrating AAC into winter outdoor activities which can be daunting and stressful, but optimal AAC implementation and learning occurs in naturalistic and engaging contexts, such as playing in the snow.
Take reasonable risks to provide access to AAC in the natural elements with the appropriate considerations. Always have the AAC system present and accessible (whether an electronic or non-electronic version) to capitalize on naturally occurring engaging communication opportunities of all forms and functions in the winter wonderland!
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (Practice Portal). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from 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. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.
Hannah Foley, B.A. is the Content Writer 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.