Congratulations! Your child received their dedicated AAC system and a new journey to communication is now underway. As with any other system of language (e.g. speaking/signing/writing etc.), when beginning to teach a child how to use an AAC system, it is best done when you use it in front of them without placing any expectations of use on the child. This is called modeling.
Just as we model spoken language when we’re playing, eating, and reading, we can use AAC devices to model communication using an alternative system while doing the same activities. By providing frequent opportunities to participate, as well as highly motivating and rewarding activities, parents can use various activities to model and teach the use of a new AAC system in everyday activities. Below we offer a few activities and strategies to implement AAC in daily life for young children.
Almost everyone is motivated by food, and this is true for little ones too. Mealtime offers a uniquely motivating reward system to teach children to communicate using an AAC device because it’s a natural activity and it provides many opportunities for the child to try on their own when the time is right.
Whether your family enjoys mealtimes at the table or in front of the TV, make sure that you set up the AAC device within reach and eyesight of you and your child. As you notice your child eating, offer another bite by visually presenting the food to them. If they appear to want a specific food, you press the “I want” icon on your child’s device, then give them the food item they requested. Try to do this consistently throughout all mealtimes each day for a few weeks before expecting your child to make a request for more food independently. As your child begins to master the “I want” request, you may consider adding the name of the specific food (e.g. “I want” + “banana”) to increase their vocabulary.
As with toys, you may also consider presenting food options to encourage your little one to make decisions and communicate specific foods that they want. You’ll start by visually presenting two (or more) food options to the child, then ask the child what they want. As the child indicates that they want one food item over the other, you’ll model their selection by imitating their choice using the AAC device and then immediately give the child the food requested.
Remember not to place any expectations for the child to use this system when it is initially presented, but over time, encourage the child gently to increase their confidence using this new communication system.