Strategy of the Month: Engaging the Learner
Summer is over in our part of the world and that means we get the opportunity to work with a whole new crop of students and clients. There is so much for beginning clinicians to know about providing AAC services that it is intimidating at best and overwhelming in most cases. In previous posts we’ve written about expectations, goal-setting, intervention strategies, therapy activities, reinforcement, feedback, and the like. This month, we’ll focus on a construct that permeates everything: engagement
We all know what it looks and feels like when a client is engaged, but how do we make that happen? Here are some thoughts.
1. Start by presuming that your client is a learner on his/her way to developing competence. Good intervention, consistent language models, the right tools, and plenty of practice will move them along the journey toward improved communication. It’s important that, as clinicians, we truly believe that. Yes, your clients may be impaired, perhaps significantly so, but they will certainly know if you don’t believe in their abilities. Presume competence.
2. Pick goals that make a difference. The things we choose to work on for our clients should lead to a better quality of life for our clients.
3. Choose therapy activities and materials that are age appropriate. A teenager whose expressive language level is at the 1-2 word stage is still a teenager.
4. Be aware of the level of difficulty in what you are asking the client to do. For most of our AAC clients, communication is hard work. What seems relatively easy, may, in fact, require a good deal of effort to:
- Divert their attention away from their own thoughts and actions and attend to what you are saying
- Process the the language you are using. You can make this easier by reducing the length and complexity of your utterance, if that is appropriate for your client, and by using aided language input.
- Organize and construct a response
- Execute that response
- Monitor the feedback
5. Make sure that the payoff for doing what you ask is sufficient for the level of effort your client is putting forth. Asking Janie to use two switch scanning to put together a short sentence? Better be sure that the outcome for doing that is worth her while.
6. Use your knowledge of the learner to select activities and materials that fit with their interests.
7. For some learners, it’s quite important to align with their values. Janie is a high school student and is very keen to make friends and be popular. When we do vocabulary activities with her, we try to use cool technologies so that the product of the activity is something age appropriate and interesting. No worksheets for Janie. Instead we’ll make digital collages, talking avatars, infographics, and the like. Janie’s more engaged because these are things that make her look great in the eyes of her peers.
Engaging the learners can take a bit of extra work, but the returns in learning and enjoyment are worth it for both the student and the clinician. What strategies do you use to engage your clients? We’d love to hear about them.
Filed under: Strategy of the Month
This post was written by Carole Zangari