Beyond Requesting: A Week of Routines to Increase AAC Use at Mealtime

May 19, 2016 by - 2 Comments

Beyond Requesting: A Week of Routines to Increase AAC Use at Mealtime
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“I want ___.”


“I’d like a diet coke, please.”


Most AAC interventionists are quite effective at helping clients use their communication systems during snack or mealtime in order to make requests. How can we move beyond that and help AAC learners communicate for a wider variety of purposes? Mealtimes are wonderful social opportunities and we can take advantage of that by building interaction opportunities around predictable routines.

Why build a routine?

  • The predictability helps learners understand what is expected of them. Understanding the expectation sets the stage for active participation.
  • When something becomes a routine, it gets implemented regularly. That gives our learners lots of opportunities to practice their new skills. It also gives us the opportunity to get better at key instructional strategies, such as aided language input, creating explicit opportunities, and using language expansions.

Need some suggestions for routines that can be created to foster social interaction with your AAC learners? Here are some ideas.

Monday: Create a question of the week that gets everyone talking about the same thing. Consider building those in a way that uses core vocabulary in the question and/or the response (e.g., “Who saw a friend today?” [me, not me]; “What did you wear?” [socks, shoes]; “Who likes __?” [I do, I do not]). That way our AAC learner can participate in asking and answering the question.

Tuesday: Tell Me Tuesday is a routine in which everyone shares one thing about their day. Our AAC users can direct the conversation with phrases like ‘my turn’ and ‘your turn.’ They can also respond with their own experiences (e.g., ‘go school,’ ‘like swim’) and give feedback to others (e.g., ‘good job,’ ‘I like it’).

Wednesday: Watch It Wednesday can be the day when everyone shares about something they’ve seen or watched. One of our AAC learners delighted us with a comment, “I see color up up,” that launched a great conversation about rainbows, rainshowers (which happens most afternoons from June-October where we live), and the Everglades (e.g., “Alligator” “Do animals see colors?”).

Thursday: Throwback Thursday is a great day to do some reminiscing. We can pull up an older photo on our phones or grab an artifact from a past event (e.g., graduation program, zoo map) to set the stage and help our AAC learners pose questions like “What did you do?” and “Where is it?” to start the conversation. They can also share their own ideas about who was there, what they did, and how they felt about it.

Friday: Music seems to be universally motivating and songs are a great way to build in communication experiences. We can take familiar tunes (e.g., Happy Birthday) and re-work them with our own lyrics. In the example below, we can pause at the end of each line to allow the AAC learner to fill in the blank with a high frequency word.

  • We’re ready to [eat].
  • We’re ready to [eat].
  • Everyone is ready.
  • We’re ready to [eat].

The simple sentence structure, familiar tune, and predictable nature of the experience make it easy and engaging.

Saturday: Weekends are a time when many families go out to eat at a restaurant, take a picnic to the park/beach, or share a meal with relatives. A version of “I Spy With My Little Eye” can be a fun way to get everyone connected. We can pre-program the starter phrase (“I spy with my little eye”), if needed, and help AAC learners give clues (e.g., “big,” “up,” “blue”) or make guesses. AAC learners can also help direct the game (e.g., “Your turn,” “I do it”).

Sunday: Create a routine around a blessing, expression of gratitude, or moment of reflection. For families who say prayers or blessings prior to eating, consider pre-storing that into the communication aid so that the AAC learner can lead and participate. They can also get the ball rolling with questions like “Who wants to do it?” or “Can I do it?”

Do you have favorite ways of building conversation at mealtimes? We’d love to hear about it.

Edited: You can view a Spanish version of this post, translated by Nidia Rocio Carillo, here. While you’re there, explore her site, Hablo Con AAC.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari


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