Stimming or Learning? Considerations For Kids Who Repeat Themselves with AAC
At the CARD 2015 conference earlier this month, I had some great conversations with professionals who wanted to integrate more AAC into their work with beginning communicators. One of the issues that came up was this: What about kids who keep using their AAC to say the same thing over and over? Here are some of the things we discussed.
- For beginning communicators, repetition is part of exploration. And exploration is part of language learning. Extinguish repetition and we have effectively shut down a tool for language development.
- Turning off the device, taking it away, or turning the volume controls to silent is NOT an option. (Whew! I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear consensus on that point!) No feeling person would tape the mouth of a speaking child to keep them quiet, and this is the AAC counterpart. Silencing a person by restricting access to their AAC is never okay. Never.
- “But they are disruptive!” (Or annoying or distracting or all three!) Yes, that happens. Beginning communicators can be all of those things whether they are speaking or whether they use AAC. It comes with the territory, so let’s plan appropriate ways of dealing with it and train our staff on those. In a perfect world, we can use it as a teaching opportunity by engaging the learners, providing aided language input, and create a brief interaction around what they said. But what about the real world? Well, in some situations, we can just let it happen and ignore it. (As a highly distractible person, I know that isn’t easy! I had to really stretch myself one summer running an AAC day camp for students who did this quite a bit. In the end, though, I got better at it.) When ignoring the repetition isn’t an appropriate option, we can consider using the same consequences we provide to speaking language learners, or use a safety signal or countdown board).
- “They are just stimming.” Maybe, but I’ve learned not to rush to judgement. What looks like stimming to me, may actually be a learning experience for my student. Proceed with caution. If you’re worried about them stimming, you may want to consult with a good behaviorist who uses contemporary methods to explore this as it relates to your learner. If they ARE stimming, see point # 2. Then examine the environment to see WHY they might be stimming. Is it too loud and they are stimming to block out the commotion? Are they bored? Has there been a change that triggered confusion or anxiety? Addressing those root causes might be the best way to handle this situation.
- Make it part of the plan. Robin Parker introduced me to the idea of adding “Talk Time” to a student’s visual schedule. “Talk Time” meant different things for different learners, but for kids who were highly repetitive it meant that this was their uninterrupted time to play with their SGD, explore, and say anything they wanted to without standards, prompting, or correction. For some learners, we put this into their schedules for 5-10 minutes each morning and afternoon. It wasn’t a magic cure, but it WAS enough to keep their repetitions to manageable levels throughout the day.
I love conference conversations like this because it keeps our focus on intervention, and we can all improve in that area. How do you handle situations like this? We’d love to hear your ideas.
Filed under: PrAACtical Thinking
This post was written by Carole Zangari