Summer is upon us! Life in this season often looks quite different than it does during the academic year. Vacations, relaxation, unstructured days, and fun summer activities replace structured learning experiences and activities. This can lead to a halt or even regression of skill development, especially for those with complex communication needs. Summer means a break from school and/or other structured routines and activities that children are engaged in throughout the school year and the implementation efforts that have fostered the development of communication and language skills are often washed away.
Learners with complex communication needs receive a maximum of sixty minutes of direct speech therapy services in the school setting each week, while those without complex communication needs (CCN) receive 3,360 minutes (about 2 and a half days) of language exposure per week, leaving them to reach the language level of an 18-month-old by the time they are eighty-four years old (Sharkey, 2018; Korsten, 2011).
AAC implementation efforts do not need to be preplanned and structured. Families, especially families with a child with CCN and other comorbidities, have limited time available to allocate to AAC implementation and limited energy to engage their communicator in learning activities.
AAC implementation, especially at home with family and friends in the summer, is optimized when it is infused into engaging and naturally occurring activities to the communicator. Rather than spending scarce time and energy on planning structured activities specifically designed to target a specific therapeutic goal, keep it fun, spontaneous, and infused in routine and engaging activities for the communicator.
Don't know where to start? Here are a few strategies and ideas!
Follow the communicator’s interests and motivations - Activities that are of high interest and motivation to the communicator make for excellent communication opportunities. You may use “sabotage” during the activity to create opportunities for communication.
Examples: Play the communicator’s favorite show or YouTube video and pause it every few minutes to comment about what is happening. Wait to press play until they initiate the request.
Play a Netflix series the communicator likes. Once Netflix asks if you are still watching, expectantly wait until they initiate the request to continue watching.
Integrate AAC into existing routines - Communication opportunities present themselves throughout the day every day, although we might not realize it until we intentionally look for them. Pause and harness such naturally occurring communication opportunities.
Check out these Language Launches and Refuels for everyday activities in which you might incorporate AAC, modeling ideas, and additional resources to facilitate language use and development.
Use AAC to interact with voice-activated technology - Not only is it motivating to the communicator, but voice-activated technology also teaches them communication skills as they receive immediate feedback from the technology immediately after initiating communication with it.
Example: Turn on a favorite song on Alexa or Google Home.
Use AAC tools to engage in play - Incorporating AAC into play shows the communicator that communication is fun while making toys accessible to those who have decreased fine motor skills. In addition to providing motivating communication opportunities, switch adapted toys and infrared radiation (IR) toys promote self-generated, active engagement of the communicator. As they control the toy, the communicator discovers the concept of cause and effect and that it is possible for them to have autonomy and control of their SGD which fosters communication initiation attempts and a proactive can-do attitude (Murphy, 2020).
Interactive sensory toys are available through Forbes AAC with corresponding Language Development Kits and premade grid sets - check them out here!
Remember to explore and develop skills related to all five of the communication functions which are expressing wants and needs, establishing and maintaining social closeness, transferring information, and displaying appropriate social etiquette during your implementation efforts at home (Beukelman & Light, 2020).
Inspire, don't require communication via AAC though modeling! Check out this WH’s of Modeling resource from CoughDrop.
Provide expectant pauses accompanied by engaged and curious facial expressions and posture to encourage the communicator to initiate communication when appropriate.
AAC Implementation within the home and community can be daunting. However, integrating AAC into existing routines, daily activities, and engaging activities maximizes learning and skill development.
Optimal learning occurs in naturalistic and engaging settings. It does not get more naturalistic than home and community settings, so take advantage of the rich learning and growing opportunities that you and your communicator encounter this summer!
Beukelman, D. R., & Light, J. C. (2020). Augmentative & Alternative Communication: Supporting Children and Adults with Complex Communication Needs. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.
Korsten, J. (2011). QIAT Listserv April 4, 2011
Murphy, L. (2020, September 15). Switch Adapted Toys 101: Everything You Need to Know. NAPA. https://napacenter.org/benefits-of-switch-adapted-toys/#:~:text=Switch%20adapted%20toys%20can%20provide,%2C%20and%20pro%2Dactive%20attitude.
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.