Tips to Help Teachers Incorporate AAC Into the Classroom

student using tablet in class

It’s back to school time, and teachers might need your support incorporating speech-generating devices (SGDs) in the classroom. SGDs and other methods of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) give students who are unable to verbally produce speech a means of learning and using language.

Where should SLPs start when working with teachers to incorporate AAC in the classroom?

For emergent communicators, introducing and modeling core vocabulary words throughout the school day lets students use language in a variety of ways. Core vocabulary—the most frequently used words in conversation—offers a great place to for teachers to begin as they help AAC users communicate and learn language.

I ask for a copy of the child’s class schedule. Then I offer the classroom teacher examples of modeling core vocabulary around specific activities. Consider typical language development in toddlers and use this as your guide.

Here are a few ideas I came up with using a small sample of core vocabulary:

Story Time:
Target “open” and “close” when opening and closing the book or playing with the flaps. Or target “turn” when turning a page. Model requesting to read “more” and use “stop” or “all done” after the story ends.

Music is a wonderful time to target turning the song “on” or “off.” Demonstrate “go” or “stop” while dancing to the music, and work on “up” or “down” with the volume. If you’re singing “Wheels on the Bus,” for example, help the child sing along by selecting “go” or “on” along with other core vocabulary words from the song.

If the activity includes coloring or painting, talk about colors, but also use this as an opportunity to discuss placing the paintbrush “in” the paint, coloring “on” the paper, or asking for “more” crayons.

Fine/Gross Motor:
If playing with puzzles, work on requesting pieces with “more,” “want” or “get.” Place pieces “in” or “on” the designated space and, of course, take them “out” or “off” after. Model “down” after a pile of blocks a student stacked gets knocked over! While riding a bike, target vocabulary such as “go,” “stop,” “on” and “help.” When walking “up” or “down” steps, talk about it using the device.

Counting games are another great way to target “more.” Try taking items being counted “in” and “out” of a cup or the child’s hands. Place items “on” the table. Work on “mine” when placing items in front of the child or yourself.

If an activity involves movement, such as shaking a bottle, I make it “go” and “stop.” If planting seeds, put the seeds “in” the dirt and request water using “want” or “more.”

Meal time:
Of course target “eat,” “drink,” “more,” “want” and “all done,” but don’t forget to help students label food as “mine,” point to “that” item on the plate, or explain spatial relationships like “on” the table or “in” the mouth.

Suggest teachers help the student express “play” or “want” to join classmates, or ask “what” activity the child wants to “play.” You can “get” a ball and make it go “in” the basket, or request “go” and “stop” on the swing.

Don’t be afraid to repeat vocabulary words over and over or show multiple uses for each word. Repetition is key. I learned a lot through continuing education courses. I also visit PrAACtical AAC and The Center for AAC & Autism for resources. Best of luck with the beginning of the year!


Karen Krogg, MS, CCC-SLP, a clinician for Tecumseh Local Schools in New Carlisle, Ohio, has experience in schools and in outpatient settings. She also creates treatment materials and shares treatment ideas on her blog, The Pedi Speechie.


The Stress of Having a Picky Eater: 3 Tips to Help Parents

Child not eating

Children who resist trying new foods range from the garden-variety, hesitant “picky eater” to extremely selective. Deciphering the intricacies of where a child lies on the eating spectrum takes our professional experience in feeding disorders and knowledge of the latest criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

But you won’t find in a professional manual the one common denominator that parents of every picky or selective eater tell you: It’s incredibly stressful for the entire family.

Feeding our children entails love, nurturing and responsibility. Parents’ anxiety about a child’s nutritional health increases if the child doesn’t appear to eat well. Imagine how these parents felt when news broke regarding the latest study in Pediatrics. Researchers found—in children ages 2 to almost 6—clear associations between selective eating and anxiety, depression and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

This particular study focuses on significant eating difficulties and not on more common picky eaters, but it’s important to consider how any child’s feeding challenges affect family stress levels and dynamics. Parents of selective eaters often say to me, “Oh, I wish I only had a picky eater!” But picky-eater parents often feel anxious as well.

As an SLP specializing in pediatric feeding, I know parents’ fears and family stress levels impede a child’s progress to becoming a more adventurous eater. Providing family-centered feeding treatment means supporting everyone in the household to the best of our abilities and within our scope of practice.

I asked a licensed clinical psychologist for tips to give parents caring for kids with eating challenges. Stephanie Smith specializes in helping parents manage the stresses of parenthood and serves on the advisory board for Produce for Kids. Use her three tips and encourage your clients’ parents and families to:

  1. Keep some perspective. Yes, eating is an essential part of life, but not the only part of life. Remind parents to notice and enjoy other shared activities with their child, even if mealtimes aren’t one of them: reading, crafts, bike rides, swimming, movies, games, puzzles.
  2. Find ways to enjoy mealtime. Suggest they take even a few minutes for themselves before or after a meal. Parents can alternate some alone time and do some deep breathing, enjoy a cup of tea or whatever helps them re-center. Bringing quiet, positive energy to the table or finding it again after a particularly stressful mealtime makes a big difference in the rest of the family’s day.
  3. Consider taking a bigger break—at least on occasion. We all love our kids, but parenting takes hard work, with mealtimes bringing particular stress. Whether this means hiring a babysitter, asking for help from family or friends, or trading off with their partner once in a while during typically “family” meals—parents need to give themselves time to relax and refuel. Assure them that taking a break or missing a meal with the family benefits everyone if it means a more relaxed state of mind for the next one.

When I offer these tips, parents tell me the advice may seem obvious, but when they get entrenched in daily mealtimes, they need help coming up with strategies like these. One mother said:

“When I’m dealing with breakfast, lunch and dinner—and it isn’t always easy with my kid—I need practical tips like these. I forget to give myself a break. I forget to stop and just enjoy my kid. I know it’s not helpful to get so wrapped up in the food (and how much he is and isn’t eating) and I lose perspective. The simplest change I’ve made is allowing myself a girl’s night once a week and I admit it: I time it so that I’m not here for family dinner. At first I felt guilty about it, but now I can see that it makes a difference for my child and my family if I get a break once a week—even at mealtimes.”

What tips do you give clients to help them stay energized and positive while their children learn to become more adventurous eaters? Please share them in the comments below.


Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children, birth to teens, who have difficulty eating. She is the co-author of “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook—A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating” (Oct. 2015), the author of “Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids,” and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD “Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs That Celebrate the Joy of Food!

5 Ways to Involve Parents More in Their Kids’ Treatment


As a speech-language pathologist, I know how much successful treatment relies on parent involvement and home practice. We might work miracles during our treatment sessions, but we  have only  a couple hours with our clients each week. If a child spends one hour per week with us, they spend 167 hours per week OUT of treatment. Typically, the majority of this non-session time gets spent with mom and dad.

Think about it in terms of a jar full of jelly beans (we can all relate to candy, right?). Fill a jar with 168 jelly beans—one for every hour in a week. Now remove one jelly bean to symbolize the hour you as a clinician spend addressing your client’s communication goals. Look at the alarming amount of jelly beans left. In fact, it’s safe to say, the lay person might not even notice the single missing bean!

Getting parents or caregivers involved in the treatment process and designing home programs they can manage in their typically busy schedules is critical for successful carryover. We know this.

Before my children were born, I subscribed to the “more equals better” mentality and absolutely loaded my families down with speech-language assignments. Now I realize families simply can’t spare much time. So how can we create programs that families can weave into their already hectic schedules?

  • First things first: Involve parents in sessions. Sometimes they prefer a waiting room to settling into teeny tiny chairs, but try to persuade them to join you. And I mean join you at the table. Talk to them about the activity and why you chose it. Deal them into the Go Fish game. Involving caregivers in your sessions and establishing a comfortable, open line of communication leads a solid rapport. Assure them your treatment room offers a safe environment where learning is your number-one goal for clients and caregivers.
  • Start every session with some version of “tell me something new you’ve noticed this week.” This open-ended question affords caregivers the chance to tell you about specific situations related to communication. Remember to check periodically with caregivers about how they feel their child progressed and if they want to work on new or additional goals.
  • Ask caregivers to bring a list of the toys and books the child enjoys. Knowing what your families work with at home helps you provide activities that address the child’s goals and assimilate easily into their routines. For example, my daughter’s current favorite activity is splashing around in her baby pool. This gives me ample opportunity to address spatial concepts (in, out, under), comprehension and use of present progressive verbs (swimming, floating, kicking, dripping, splashing), increasing use of descriptive terms (cold, wet, slippery), and following directions. Or if you really need your client to work on medial /p/, encourage an extra reading or two per day of “Hippos Go Berserk.”
  • Ask caregivers when they can set aside time for communication activities. Share ideas or strategies to maximize speech and language practice during these times. If mom feels she can only devote the 20-minute morning commute to addressing communication skills, don’t despair. Toss out worksheets and sit down with her to create a list of activities they can safely complete in the car. Suggest categorization—“name all the animals you can!”—or expansion techniques to increase length of utterance, or acoustic highlighting and auditory bombardment. Create a speech book with target-sounds pictures to place in those handy-dandy seat-back pockets, so her child can talk about the pictures while practicing her sounds. Coach mom to elicit multiple productions when her little superstar gets it just right and to model and correct if her child struggles.
  • Involve the whole family. It’s no secret older siblings motivate little ones. Encourage parents to recruit their big kids to play the role of “speech assistant” and turn speech and language homework into family play time.

Amanda Rhodes Fyfe, MS, CCC-SLP, works for the Mansfield Independent School District. 

More Talk, Less Tech

As summer winds down, help your clients make the most out of these last few weeks of quality family time by sharing these infographics. They focus on reducing screen time and protecting hearing when they do indulge.

Vacation travel, barbecues, family excursions . . . summer is full of prime communication opportunities for families.




Summer leisure time may mean increased tech consumption. Help clients and families protect their hearing by following three simple safety tips when using tech devices with ear buds or headphones.





3 Ways to Incorporate Literacy Into Treatment


To address literacy skills or to not address literacy skills? That is often the question facing the public school speech-language pathologist. And before you start secretly thinking angry thoughts about me and my caseload, I’ll stop and agree with you right here: No, we cannot add another job to our workload. With the education changes we have seen in the last few years, we need to work smarter, not harder. We can, however, incorporate literacy into the language, articulation, fluency and voice treatment sessions we already do.

These three techniques work for me:

  1. CVC/Words with blends. Write consonant-vowel-consonant words or words containing consonant blends on paint cards. Students tap each sound and blend them together to read the word. Associating letters with sounds and blending them is great practice for our students having articulation and phonological disorders. For a little simultaneous language practice, ask the student what the word means after she reads it. If a student doesn’t understand what he’s reading, he’s not really reading, no matter what his fluency score might look like.Often, I’ll ask my students to blend and read words such as “dog,” “cat,” “big,” “hat” and then ask them what it is. If they don’t know, they didn’t truly read the word. When we do it again, I can see the exact moment the light comes on and they read the word. It usually goes something like this: “Oh yeah, that’s something that says bark!” or “At home, my dog’s name is Buddy!”
  1. Use Reader’s Theatre in your articulation, voice and fluency groups. This research-based intervention doesn’t only increase reading fluency, it also promotes intonation, prosody, comprehension and overall reading enjoyment. Print pages of plays and ask your articulation students to highlight sounds they’re covering before they practice. My guess is that you’ll target various goals in one session and the students will enjoy doing it!
  2. No reading materials? No problem! Use materials from the regular classroom. Have students bring books that they’re reading in class to your sessions. It’s often eye-opening to see what our students do in class. Recently, a group of my students brought the book “Tuck Everlasting.” I made copies for my articulation students to highlight their target sounds and read to the rest of us. My language students then retold the story and discussed the book.

The thought of incorporating literacy into our sessions might overwhelm us. It doesn’t need to, however, if we connect literacy to what we already do during treatment.


Nicole Allison, MA, CCC-SLP, serves as media chair on the Ohio School Speech Pathology Educational Audiology Coalition and blogs at Allison’s Speech Peeps. She also creates materials to benefit school SLPs, especially on data collection and the Common Core State Standards.