(Re)Building a Desire to Use AAC: 3 Activities to Try

April 11, 2022 by - Leave your thoughts

(Re)Building a Desire to Use AAC: 3 Activities to Try
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Jessa is learning to use an AAC app that is rich in core vocabulary. Despite dual diagnoses of autism and Down Syndrome, she’s picking it up quite well. Jessa’s not very keen on coming to therapy, though, and often puts her head down on the table to avoid engagement.

Matthew goes with the flow. With more than a decade of therapy under his belt, he’s “learned to comply” and will generally follow directions that are given to him. For the most part, though, he seems to use his AAC because the adults want him to. Interaction using his AAC system doesn’t seem to bring Matthew much satisfaction.

Kristina is a pretty proficient AAC user. Most people don’t realize that, though, because she tends to communicate in single words or short sentences. The other students in her special education classroom are far less communicatively competent, so when Kristina engages with 2-word sentences, the adults are pretty impressed and generally don’t press her for more sophisticated language. As a result, Kristina can be pretty resistant when more demands are placed on her to use new words or express herself in longer sentences.

Bryce is all smiles and happy noises when his therapist walks into the classroom, but the challenge of learning to use 2-switch step scanning to access an AAC grid display is daunting. He’ll do anything to distract his therapist and tries his best to engage her without using the SGD at all.

What are some activities that we can use to help AAC learners discover or reconnect with the joy of communicating and support AAC learning at the same time? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Texting: Adding a spoonful of technology can be a great way to engage AAC learners and having them dictate a message that you can text to someone they know is one way to do that. If you’re working with AAC learners who might enjoy connecting with family, friends, and others via text message, here are some thoughts on how to get started.
    1. “What should we text?” Because the goal is to provide an enjoyable experience for the communicator to use AAC, we want to keep this light and easy. Images work really well for this activity, whether they are of things taken with the camera in your phone or something you’ve found on the internet. Even emojis can be used for this.
      • Ideas: A photo of craft or project that the AAC user did, a photo of them in action, a picture of something special to them (e.g., a race car for Nascar fans, Peppa Pig, makeup, beach), a weather or holiday-related emoji, a logo for a favorite restaurant or place to visit, a photo from a trip or special event. Be careful not to include people or identifying information in the images unless you have permission to do so.
    2. “How can we integrate this with AAC use?” Keep things simple, easy, and fun. Remember, this is a communication activity, not a literacy experience. We can have them say the word with their AAC system and then we can type it into the phone (unless the communicator enjoys that and wants to participate in that part). If the AAC user typically communicates in 1-2 symbol utterances, you might want to have the image accompanied by a single word (e.g., Look. Go. Yummy). If they are already communicating with multi-word messages, then you can have them dictate a phrase, sentence, or even a few sentences for you to text. The idea is for them to experience using their AAC in ways that are enjoyable, so keeping it short and simple is probably the best way to start.   
    3. Make it part of the regular schedule or agenda. Develop a daily or weekly routine of sending a text to a trusted individual. For example, at the end of every session with her school SLP, they take a photo of an activity they worked on in that session, and Mireya uses her AAC to dictate a single word message for texting. 
    4. Professionals may not want to reveal their personal phone numbers. Some schools and clinics use tools like Remind and Edmodo which allow professionals to text students, parents, and guardians while preserving their privacy. For those who don’t have that option, this article describes other ideas for sending texts without revealing your phone number.  
    5. Several AAC devices/apps allow the AAC user to send a text right from their device. This can be a valuable skill to teach some AAC users.
  2. Language Experience Surveys: Create a simple 1-question survey that gives your student a chance to practice emerging AAC skills. This is a versatile activity that you can learn more about here
    1. The AAC learner will have an active role in asking the question so you’ll need to plan out the best way to do this. That will depend on the goals that you have for them, but remember that the main priority here is for them to enjoy the experience of using AAC.
    2. Practice these interactions ahead of time so that the AAC user knows what to do and how to do it. 
    3. Ideas for language experience surveys
      • Favorites (or most memorable): “What’s your favorite ___?” You can ask about music one day and things like favorite movies, shows, books, foods, or holidays in subsequent sessions.
      • Recommendations: “What’s the best/funniest/scariest  ___?” You can leave this open-ended for the respondents or provide a set of options to choose from. 
      • Recollections and Experiences: “Tell me about a time when ___” “Did you ever ___? Tell me about it.” 
  3. Make a Collage: Whether digital or paper-based, we can use collages to engage with AAC learners around things that they enjoy. Our AAC learners can help find and select the images and use their AAC to add a title or caption.
    1. Ideas for using collages
      • Things related to a hobby or interest (e.g., baking, fashion, space travel)
      • A person or character, whether real or fictional
      • Parts of a favorite show or movie
      • Things associated with their daily lives (e.g, having breakfast, going to school, the place where they go for aftercare, watching TV, taking a shower)
      • Colors (e.g., things that are blue, ways that yellow makes us feel, red foods)

Do you have fun and easy activities that help AAC learners find enjoyment in using their AAC tools and strategies? We’d love to hear about them.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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