PrAACtical Thoughts on Supporting Reluctant Communicators
As any experienced AAC professional will tell you, people who are learning to use AAC systems don’t produce as much verbal output as their speaking peers. And, every once in awhile, we run into an AAC learner who communicates VERY infrequently even though they are capable of doing more. They’re often described as shy (perhaps) or stubborn (cringe! shudder! clench teeth!), but, in our view, their reluctance to communicate is probably related to a few other things. We generally don’t like to do things that are difficult for us, particularly if the pay-off is not in proportion to the effort, or if there are insufficient supports. If the learner has had a history of being unsuccessful or associates communication with a high level of effort, it makes sense that they are not rushing to interact with us.
It doesn’t always pay to rush things. Sometimes we get better outcomes by building trust first, then moving onto self-confidence and verbal expression as the relationship develops. Here are some other thoughts on ways to positively impact the learning of reluctant communicators.
1. Treat them as if they are capable of responding but choose not to (for whatever reason). Honor that. We all prefer to be around people who respect our choices, right?
2. Reduce or eliminate confrontation. Putting them on the spot is not the answer. In fact, setting up situations where they are obliged to respond may increase their reluctance to communicate. Avoid lots of direct questions and mentor others to do the same. As we’ve mentioned before, when we go into ‘quiz mode,’ learners like this often get defensive and shut down.
3. Let them lead. A learner-driven approach, in which we observe what they are doing and then join in is a good way to start. Intervene slowly, watching closely for signs of acceptance. Gradually insert yourself into their play, narrating as you go.
4. Have frequent, no-demand interactions. Comment on what is going on, give positive feedback on what you observed, offer them something fun, but don’t expect or prompt a response. The goal here is just to get them to see that communicating with you doesn’t mean ‘work.’
5. Use aided language input. If they’re not getting experience with language output, at least we can make it meaningful by providing competent models of AAC.
6. Broadcast their successes. Sometimes it can help to make a bit of a fuss, so try commenting on something positive that the learner did when they are in earshot. “Mr. E., did you see Jayson finish that puzzle? I didn’t know he could do it that fast!”
Kids don’t usually behave randomly, so if they are hesitant to communicate, there is probably a good reason for it. We try to develop a working hypothesis for why the communicator is not attempting to interact, then experiment with some solutions that make sense for that situation. If you have thoughts about this kind of communicator, please share them. We’re always looking for new perspectives. Maybe you have an idea that will help the rest of us.
Filed under: PrAACtical Thinking
This post was written by Carole Zangari