AAC Users and Thanksgiving

Green cornucopia with apples and a pumpkin

Centering Communication 

Let’s talk about some ways we can support AAC users during the holidays.

November is a time when we think about gratitude. As society reopens, we can…

…be grateful for the chance to see family and friends.
…be grateful for all forms of communication.
…be grateful for the tools (like AAC) that make communication possible. It is wonderful that we have systems, light and high tech, that allow folks to speak their minds.

  • Make sure that AAC is out and available 
  • Charge AAC before you leave the house and bring a power bank with you.
  • Bring the AAC with you to holiday parties.  
  • Holidays can be super busy, but communication is what gathering with family and friends is all about..
  • Commit to listening.  
  • We should not ignore or push aside what someone says with AAC.
    Even when the AAC user says something we may not want to hear.  
  • Assume intention and be responsive. 
    Even if we are not sure the person meant to say something. 
  • If you can’t bring a high-tech system with you someplace, make sure you bring a light tech backup.   

 Planning for Change 

We have been largely isolated for the last 18 months. Holiday gatherings will be a big transition. When family members gather for the meal, it may be crowded and noisy. If you use a high-tech AAC device, don’t forget to bring a Bluetooth speaker. Make sure the AAC user can be heard. Grab people’s attention: “Hey, Jordan has something to say. Let’s give them a moment to be heard.” 

 How about Thanksgiving with someone who has sensory differences. Keep in mind that a noisy room full of people can be overwhelming.  Don’t forget to bring earmuffs or noise-canceling headphones. Try to create a calm space somewhere in the house. Maybe there is a spot where that person can go to take a sensory break when they need it.  

All of us can feel overwhelmed during the holidays! Playing video games in a quiet corner is not “antisocial”. That person may be trying to calm their sensory system and self-regulate. Sensory overload in a young child can look like a “tantrum”, but it can also look like someone shutting down. They are doing their best to stay regulated.  

Talking Turkey 

Most robust AAC systems have a holiday-related vocabulary in sub-folders. Find it and talk about the holidays  

  • In TouchChat, look in Groups for the Holidays folder.  
  • In Proloquo2Go, look under the Things folder for Events. You will find the holidays folder there.  
  • In Speak for Yourself, look under the Which button on the bottom right.  
  • In LAMP, tap Make and you will find the holidays folder on the top left of the activity row.  

Don’t overlook the power of high-frequency words (Core Vocabulary). There are lots of things you can talk about without any specialized vocabulary. Here are some examples of how you might use descriptive language: 

Turkey Talk  Say it with Core 
Bake a pumpkin pie  I make orange pie 
Make stuffing  do small bread, put in bird 
Baste the turkey  Turn the bird, make wet 
Watch the parade on TV  Watch animal balloons up high 
go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving  Drive in car see Mom Mom 
Make whipped cream  Turn milk fast 
I’m really full  Eat good food, stomach big 
after turkey nap  Time for little sleep 

More food for thought. If a child has limited food selections, mashed potatoes is white food. Perhaps Thanksgiving is not the day to fight over food choices. Enjoy being together, even if it is still over Zoom. Preferences and comfort levels may differ this fall.

The pandemic has kept many families apart for the last 18 months. We are all out of practice with physical proximity. It is okay not to hug every aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandparent. If the AAC user says NO to hugs, we should listen. After all, both Thanksgiving and AAC are about relationships, not task demands. That is something to be grateful for.  


Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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