I’ve experienced this many times.
We place a high-tech, speech-generating device (SGD) in front of our nonverbal students who are also emergent communicators and… wham! Everyone expects them to start spontaneously producing sentences and participating in everything from social conversations with peers to answering questions related to rigorous academic content. If these things don’t happen as fast as everyone hoped they would, frustration occurs.
Let’s backtrack for a moment. SGDs are wonderful, but devices make up only one piece of the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) puzzle. They can’t replace the language intervention piece needed by an emergent communicator.
Let’s consider typical language development. I’m a new mom. I know my baby will spend the majority of his first year of life listening to spoken language. He’s also going to start comprehending some of the vocabulary he’s exposed to in his linguistic environment. He’ll start vocalizing sounds. Those sounds will eventually become words. He’ll start to learn the meaning of individual words and how those words can be used in multiple ways.
Research tells me his vocabulary growth will continue, but it’s going to be gradual. We typically start speaking in single words. As we acquire more words, we eventually put those words together to form simple phrases and sentences. We learn to use word endings and our sentences become more complex.
In other words, it takes time to learn how to talk.
Speech-language pathologists can use this model to help explain to parents and other professionals how we’re going to build language using research-based strategies. We are specialists who studied typical language acquisition and we use this as a guide. We can explain how to model language in fun, interactive ways. We can provide resources to our families on how to use devices as learning tools for facilitating language in their everyday environments.
We should be realistic with the team from the start—learning to use an SGD won’t happen overnight. As we know, placing a device in front a student will not magically cure receptive and expressive language disorders. Let’s make sure the rest of the team—including caregivers—understand how language development takes time.
We can also remind everyone about the time it takes to learn how to operate any new piece of technology. If you’re feeling sassy, hand someone a smartphone different from one they use at your next IEP meeting and it just might illustrate your point. (That’s a joke, by the way!)
SGDs are valuable tools for our patients with receptive and expressive language disorders. They are not a magical substitute for the slow process of language acquisition and the patient guidance of the SLP.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org