Influencing People’s Perception of Beginning AAC Users: 3 Things to Try

June 6, 2022 by - Leave your thoughts

Influencing People’s Perception of Beginning AAC Users: 3 Things to Try
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In recent weeks, we’ve been talking about the wheel of perception and how that influences the lives of people who use AAC. Today, we’re focusing on things that AAC practitioners can do to get the perception wheels turning a positive direction. Here are some suggestions for things to try.

  1. Model High Expectations: Don’t underestimate the power you have to change other people’s perceptions of your clients/students who use AAC just by modeling the high expectations that you hold for them. Here are some examples of situations where AAC professionals did just that.
    • Jusef seemed agitated, pacing the room and rocking forcefully. His teacher grabbed a choice board with options that typically help Jusef feel calm and regain his composure. She walked alongside him holding the board within view until he slowed and then stopped. “Let’s find something that will help you feel better,” she suggested. “We could…go get a drink (paused to look at him)…listen to music (another observant pause)…take a break in the Chill Zone.” Jusef stopped rocking for a few seconds. “Should we head to the Chill Zone?” He grabbed her arm and squeezed. “That’s a good idea,” she said as she led him to that area of the classroom. “I’m glad you told me what you need to feel better.” In this exchange, Jusef’s teacher modeled her expectation that they could problem-solve together and that he could express what he needed in order to feel better.
    • Mia was at her first IEP meeting, and used her AAC device to say that she was mad. “We need to hear more about that, Mia,” said her SLP. “I’d like to know what made you mad and what you think we should do about it.” In this interaction, the SLP showed others that she perceived Mia who expressed her feelings competently and could then elaborate on her message to explain more about the situation.
    • It was Morning Meeting in Room 113 and Ms. Ellenson brought out the weather chart. “Who can tell me what our weather is today?” Benita got excited and immediately turned to her AAC device. “Elsa. Olaf. Anna. Kristoff.” She looked up excitedly at her teacher. “Hmmm,” said Ms. Ellenson. “It sounds like you are thinking about people who live in a place that is really…” She paused, moved toward Benita, and gestured over the describing words folder on her AAC device screen. Benita opened that folder and began looking for the word she wanted but couldn’t seem to find it. Ms. Ellenson continued: “I’m wondering if you want to tell us it was…” as she gestured over the words hot, cold, big, and little. “Cold,” Benita said. “Who agrees with Benita?” she asked. “Who thinks it is cold out today?” Ms. Ellenson’s response to the list of Frozen characters showed that she knew that it wasn’t random or off-topic but rather related to the question about the weather somehow. She demonstrated how to build on what Benita initially said and helped her use an adjective to describe the weather.

2. Amplify Their Voices: If communication partners are not perceiving our client/student who uses AAC in fair and accurate ways, we can sometimes help by making sure the AAC user’s messages are heard and respected. Here are some examples.

    • When Jusef was given a set of manipulatives for independent work time, he pushed the tray to the side. “It’s work time,” said the aide as she moved it back in front of him. Jusef picked up one of the baskets and dropped it on the floor. “Jusef,” his teacher said, “I don’t think you want to do sorting today.” “Let’s see what else we can find instead.” During this exchange, Jusef’s teacher gave a clear impression that his actions were meaningful and demonstrated her perception that he was rejecting the activity in the best way he could at that moment. Rather than it being a behavior problem, his teacher perceived his actions as serving a clear function (expressing that he didn’t want to do the activity) and acted in accordance with his intent. 
    • Mia was not happy that the aide in her classroom failed to scan the Language Arts worksheet so that she could have it in an accessible format. When she came to therapy, Mia shared her feelings (“mad”) and complained about it (“I need it on computer. Not paper”). The SLP helped Mia put together a short narrative about what happened and wrote it down so that they could share it with the teacher and aide. In doing so, she helped Mia get her message across in a clear, cohesive way which changed how the aid perceived Mia’s capabilities.
    • Benita was participating in a shared reading group with her SLP, when this question came up: What is the tallest thing you’ve ever seen? Benita navigated to a page on her AAC device with Disney characters. “We’re not talking about Disney right now, Benita. Can you tell me something tall?” Hearing the exchange from across the room, Ms. Ellenson piped up. “There are some tall things at Disney World, aren’t there? Are you thinking of something tall at Disney?” With this brief interruption, Benita’s teacher showed that she perceived the initial answer (Disney) to be fully related to the SLP’s question rather than something random or off-topic. 

3. Highlight Their Victories: Learning to use AAC is hard work, and helping others to see the client/student be successful can go a long way to shaping a more positive perception of their abilities and potential. We can facilitate this by highlighting the everyday successes that they have in getting their point across. Text an anecdote. Brag on them in front of others. Use badges and certificates to call attention to significant victories. Help them tell the stories of their achievements. By catching the successful moments and making sure that others know about them, we can facilitate a more accurate understanding of who the individual is and what they are capable of doing. 

Have you found creative ways to help others see beginning AAC users in a more positive light? We’d love to hear about them.

If you missed the previous posts on this topic, you can find those here.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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