In the classroom setting, AAC can play a crucial role in helping students who require assistance with communication. There are many ways to integrate AAC into this classroom such as communication boards, visual supports, and training communication partners. This week’s blog post addresses some ideas on how to integrate AAC in the back-to-school classroom!
Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs): AAC devices are personalized and unique to each individual AAC user. Features such as symbols, vocabulary layout, language, voice, and access methods are customized for each person.
For students who have a dedicated device, they should ALWAYS have access to their device. 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!
Incorporate curriculum-related vocabulary and concepts into the user's AAC system so the student has access to this language to use in the classroom.
Additionally, the concerns regarding overuse of screentime for children doesn't apply to the screens as part of an AAC system (ASHA, n.d.).
Picture Communication Boards: These boards consist of pictures representing various objects, actions, or concepts, allowing students to point to the images to convey their messages.
These are super easy to make! Most AAC apps, such as CoughDrop, offer a board printing feature making it easy to print pages from a student's pageset. Laminate these or put them in page protectors to keep them protected and post them throughout the classroom and the school!
Having these picture communication boards available throughout the school allows others, such as librarians, classmates, and paraprofessionals to view and use AAC.
Checkout location-based communication supports for schools here: Communication Everywhere - CoughDrop
Visual Schedules: Visual schedules can help students understand the daily routines and activities in the classroom, reducing anxiety and improving their ability to transition between tasks.
Visual schedules present objects, photographs, drawings, words, or other symbols horizontally or vertically in order to prompt students through a sequence of tasks or activities (ASHA, n.d.). Check out an example below from the CoreWord™ Language System in CoughDrop.
Peer Support: Encouraging peer support and understanding can foster an inclusive classroom environment, where students using AAC feel accepted and valued.
It's important that classmates understand AAC. Educate peers about what AAC is and its importance in aiding communication for their classmates. Teach them effective communication strategies for interacting with individuals who use AAC, such as wait time, asking open-ended questions, and being patient. And teach peers to respect the autonomy and preferences of those who use AAC!
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.
Communication Partners: Teachers and classmates can be trained on how to effectively interact with students using AAC, promoting meaningful communication exchanges.
Insufficient training of communication partners, such as teachers and classmates, has been identified as a barrier to the use of speech-generating devices (Bailey et al., 2006).
Where to start? Familiarize communication partners with the AAC system the individual is using. This might involve learning about the type of communication device, app, or system they use, as well as the symbols, vocabulary, and organization within the system.
A key tip, wait time! Give the AAC user sufficient time to respond. Communication through AAC might take longer than verbal communication, so it's important to be patient.
AAC Training: Teachers and support staff may receive training on AAC strategies and techniques to better assist students with their unique needs.
Provide training materials and resources to communication partners. This might include tutorials, workshops, and access to professionals who specialize in AAC. Remember, AAC technology and techniques evolve, so it's important for communication partners to continue to learn and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in AAC.
AAC training creates an environment where the AAC user feels comfortable and confident using their system.
Visual Supports: Teachers can use visual aids like charts, pictures, and diagrams to reinforce concepts and enhance comprehension for all students, including those using AAC.
Visual supports can enhance communication, comprehension, and participation for students who use AAC. There are many types of visual supports, such as social stories and visual supports for classroom lessons.
Social stories are visual narratives that help individuals understand social situations, routines, or expectations. They can be used to teach appropriate behavior, address anxieties, and improve social interaction skills.
Supports for classroom lessons can aid in clarifying concepts and assist instruction.
The implementation of AAC in the classroom will vary depending on the specific needs of the students and the available resources in the school. Use these ideas to get started!
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (Practice Portal). Retrieved August, 22, 2023, from www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Augmentative-and-Alternative-Communication/.
Bailey, R. L., Parette, H. P., Jr., Stoner, J. B., Angell, M. E., & Carroll, K. (2006). Family members’ perceptions of augmentative and alternative communication device use. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 37(1), 50–60. https://doi.org/10.1044/0161-1461(2006/006)
Beukelman, D. R., & Light, J. C. (2020). Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (5th ed). Brookes.
Katie Threlkeld, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed, ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist and the Educational Program Developer at Forbes AAC. She has over eight years of experience in AT and AAC assessment and treatment with both the pediatric and adult populations. Katie has presented at the state and national level on AAC topics and she has University teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level.