An 18-month-old child has been exposed to 4,380 waking hours of oral language. A typical AAC user, exposed to modeling, two times a week for 30 minutes, would take 84 years to have the same level of exposure.
Babies hear thousands of words modeled before they begin to speak. They have many chances to copy what they hear. We all need to hear the words of a language before we can speak the words. When we are immersed in a language, we make it our own. Imagine trying to learn to speak another language without hearing it spoken. What would that be like? Would you be successful?
The same is true for people with complex communication needs. Whatever methods we want to encourage, we need to use. The communication methods need to come alive. If we want to encourage gestures without speech, we need to use gestures without speaking. If we are trying to promote facial expressions, we become expressive ourselves. If the person has a device, we need to use it, show it, and model it.
How does learning a new communication method compare to learning a second language? We know from research on learning a second language that most people learn at a basic level in 2-3 years. More complicated proficiency takes 5-7 years. If we use these time periods to set goals for use a new method, we may need to model the new method for a long time.
So how do we start to model methods?
- Use the method yourself with the person and others.
- Slow down. We build speed over time. When we are learning something new, sometimes slower is better.
- Make it a dance. Take your cues from the situation. If the person seems to want your help getting started, okay. If not, be patient.
- Talk about what you want. (i.e. “I want to show you how to say that with your talker.”)
- Mess up. Showing a person how to repair a message is part of the process.
- Say the same thing over and over again. For example, if you are encouraging a head nod for “no” – do it repeatedly.
- Use the method in lots of different situations and places.
- Use the method throughout the day.
- Focus on keywords or key messages with lots of impact in many situations.