AAC Evaluations: Back to School

Apple on top of two books

As September comes to an end, students are back in the classroom. But school in 2021 probably looks a little different than before. While some things might change, the need for access to communication stays the same. It’s time to start thinking about exploring AAC for students!

Where to Start

Has the student used an AAC device or system before? Or does the student need something new? Either way, think about these questions to get the process started: 

  • What are the student’s strengths and needs?
  • How does the student communicate? What’s working well and what’s not? 
  • Does the student have particular physical access needs?
    • Can the student touch a screen or need eye gaze, head tracking, switches, etc. 
  • Have any AAC devices or systems been tried in the past? What happened? 

Remember that there are no prerequisites to who can use AAC. A student does not have to have mastered a particular set of skills. AAC can be considered for any student that has communication needs. 

Next Steps

Different frameworks and tools can guide this process. A SETT meeting can help the team start thinking about different options. Created by Dr. Joy Zabala, SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, & Tools. During this meeting, the team can look at what works for the student and what their areas of need are. Then the team can identify specific features that an AAC device/system must have for the student to use it. There are many different options available to try, so matching features can help narrow it down to a few top picks. Of course, these “top picks” might not be the final selection, but they can often be a good place to start trialing and gathering information!

When the team meets to initially discuss an AAC evaluation, that is also a good time to explore funding options. If AAC is needed for the student to access the curriculum, it should be included in the Individualized Education Program (IEP). When assistive technology is in the IEP, the school district is often required to provide it as part of the student’s free and appropriate public education. However, there are considerations around ownership when a device is purchased by a school district. Alternate funding sources are also available for students and families to choose from, including insurance. Using insurance is a personal choice for the family and a school district usually cannot require them to use it when the device is in the IEP. Additional information about AAC and IEPs can be found at http://aaccommunity.net/caac_slp/aac-in-the-iep/

Once device/system selections have been identified a trial period is usually recommended. This gives the student a chance to explore the different systems. Sometimes the right option is tried out in the first round, but other times it’s back to the feature matching! Remember that it is ok if the original “top picks” are not the right fit. This trial period is meant to find the pros and cons of different options and this feedback can help narrow it down even more. It will also depend on the funding system for the number of devices trialed, the type of data collection needed, and the trial period length. 

How to Trial Devices at School

  • Make any custom changes to the trial device needed
    • Add personal vocabulary such as favorite things, people, etc. 
    • Use photographs or symbols that are familiar to the student 
    • Change the layout, font size/color, etc. to meet the student’s needs
  • Have the device/system available throughout the day
  • Adult communication partners (teachers, paraprofessionals, staff, etc.) should model on the device during different activities 
    • Ideas
      • Use core vocabulary throughout the day (example: “go” and “stop” when walking in the hallway to/from specials, lunch, class changes, etc.) 
      • Provide choices when available
      • Use the device to locate new vocabulary words or to describe concepts in class
      • Share information, comment, and tell stories with other students
      • Join in during everyday conversations! 
    • It is important to note that each student will benefit from different levels of support and modeling. Some students may need to be shown the location of and/or how to use a word multiple times, others may not. Some students may prefer adults to use a separate device or printable/paper version rather than model directly on their trial device, others may not mind at all. Adapt to the student’s learning style and support preferences as needed. 

Finishing the Process

Once a device/system has been selected, it is time to get the student their own. As previously mentioned, there are different funding options that the student, family, and team can pursue. Information on writing an insurance submission for a speech-generating device can be found at http://aaccommunity.net/caac_slp/writing-an-insurance-request/.  

No matter the funding source, information about the student’s communication and AAC should be included in their IEP. This can include information about the particular device, how the team can model and/or support the student with their device, and any goals/objectives related to the device.  

When the evaluation is complete, the student’s AAC journey is just beginning! 

Hali Strickler

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