“I wish Lily would use her AAC to do more than ask for things.”
“Jayson has a speech-generating device but he doesn’t really use it outside of therapy.”
“How can I get Marcus to use his ‘talker’ when I’m not in the classroom to support him?”
Allowing students with little or no functional speech a way to say whatever they want to say, whenever they want, to anyone of their choosing is an ambitious goal. This is exactly what speech-language pathologists hope to accomplish with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
The path to reach this lofty goal is marked by twists and turns, hills and valleys. Often, students using AAC try several different approaches as school teams work to identify specific tools and technologies that generate the most success.
For example, Lily, age 7, started with choice boards and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) as a preschooler. She used those tools primarily to express wants or needs. In her inclusive kindergarten classroom, she tried an AAC app with a basic grid display on a mobile tablet and made measurable progress with it. However, Lily’s team felt the AAC app lacked depth, so they switched her to a more advanced version.
When Lily’s progress remained slow, the team tried a different AAC app with a new symbol set, layout and lexicon at the start of first grade. At the same time that Lily was learning to use the tool to express her thoughts and needs and demonstrate her academic abilities, she faced many new experiences—a new teacher, new classmates and a new routine. Students like Lily rely on the educational team to support their communication learning through all these changes.
As SLPs, we shoulder much of the responsibility for helping school staff facilitate AAC use during the day. What are some ways we can support key communication partners—teachers, paraeducators and families—and help them use strategies to facilitate AAC learning?