5 tips for Back to School with AAC

Updated: Mar 10, 2018

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

NO I’m not talking about the Christmas season, I’m talking about BACK TO SCHOOL!!

It’s that moment where everyone feels that odd mix of excitement and panic, which is totally normal. Here are 5 tips to help calm those nerves (besides having a glass of wine).

1) Get hands on!

AAC devices can be a intimidating. This is made 100 times worse if you’re working with several clients using different devices. This can be totally overwhelming! The easiest way to calm that fear is to grab the communication system and play with it!

As children, we play with language before we use it to successfully communicate. Students who are introduced to a new device also “babble” with the device while they’re figuring it out. As clinicians, teachers, and/or parents of people who use AAC, we have to do this too! We have to play with their language system in order to become familiar with it. We’re responsible for “modeling,” which is a fancy way of saying we have to talk to them and with them using AAC. We have to show them how to use AAC to expand their language. We can’t model how to use the AAC system if we’re not familiar or comfortable with it.

2) Reach out to parents.

Parents are the captains of the ship at home, and it’s critical that they understand what’s going on in speech therapy and at school. While SLPs may have wonderfully brilliant reasons why they’re going about their specific plan, if they’re not communicating successfully with parents, it can look like udder chaos. A recent study from Penn State shows that SLPs and parents are often not on the same page when it comes to treating their children. The easiest way to prevent this is to communicate! It seems so silly (especially since… you know… communication is kinda our thing…), but it can really help. If you’re able to discuss 1) what you’re doing, 2) why you’re doing it, and 3) what you’re hoping to achieve, parents feel more connected to you and are more invested in carry-over ideas at home.

3) Have visuals handy.

Visuals are a lifesaver for everyone. When working with non-verbal students, it’s important to remember that visual supports are used as receptive tools (for understanding) and expressive tool (getting the point across). In short, visuals can only be helpful to have around!

SO… take some time to make visuals and put them everywhere. This is especially important for individuals using pictures/symbols for communication. In order for these kids to use pictures/symbols to communicate, people need to model! They need to see other kids and adults using these pictures/symbols to communicate. You know what makes modeling super easy? If visuals are everywhere! First and foremost, the student must have his/her AAC device available everywhere. Beyond that, it’s really helpful to add visual supports around the child’s environment, such as in the classroom, by the doorway for greetings, in the dining room at home, around the kitchen, within certain games, etc.

4) Show it off!

One of my worst on-the-job fears is that the things I work on with my students will stay in the “speech bubble” (a.k.a. no generalization outside of “speech time”). As teachers and SLPs, we’re constantly thinking of how to help students generalize skills beyond our time with them. With AAC, the best and most successful way I’ve found to do this is by keeping other staff members in the loop. Support staff members are the bloodline of special education for many of these students. They’re around for a lot of the “in-the-moment” opportunities that we can’t always be there for! It may be as simple as taking the last 2 minutes of the session to show support staff what you just worked on with the student. While that may seem like a big task, it can be as simple as this: “We were working on asking “where” questions today, so if he’s trying to ask where something is in the classroom or where a person is that day, model it on the device. Let me show you where it is on the page.” THAT’S IT! Now you’ve passed along the information from your session and helped to generalize wh-questions outside of “speech.” BOOM.

5) Be like Nike: Just Do It!

AAC can be intimidating. It’s true. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that AAC is another output for language. Good AAC therapy boils down to good language therapy. You can do that! You do that all the time! You have all of the knowledge and tools, you need to buckle down and Just Do It!

Don’t let AAC become something scary. It’s a fun, exciting, creative method of using language, and YOU CAN DO THIS!



Amanda ML Samperi

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