One of the biggest hurdles I experience—as a speech-language pathologist who works in various settings—involves getting parents and school staff to buy in on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for a child. On the surface, everyone agrees a child needs a communication outlet. We talk about making sure the AAC system is with a child at all times. (You wouldn’t go anywhere without your voice, so don’t take theirs away.) We talk about how improving communication reduces certain unwanted behaviors. We know all of these things, but then why do we see a lack of follow-through on the use of AAC?
Here are a few recommendations to help improve support and buy-in for the use of AAC:
Communication, communication, communication!
We work in the field of communication, so this almost goes without saying. We need to listen to the concerns of the adults in the child’s life and troubleshoot why AAC isn’t regularly used. Open and regular communication is sometimes easier said than done, however, especially with caseload and workload issues. Just know your time spent listening to problems and challenges pays off in the end.
What’s one takeaway I get from every formal AAC evaluation? Parents and professionals need more training. If you’re a school-based SLP, push for training for yourself, as well as for parents, classroom teachers, paraeducators and anyone else regularly interacting with students using AAC.
Empowerment and involvement
Involve the whole team in developing and adapting the vocabulary for the child. Through regular communication and appropriate training, every member of the team can learn how to adapt vocabulary as needs arise. This also helps with workload issues—if others on the team feel empowered and know how to make adjustments, the SLP no longer bears sole responsibility.
Some new speech-generating AAC systems allow for Cloud capability (CoughDrop, SuperSpeak). With increased use of electronic devices and newer technology, others can immediately share any updates to the child’s device. For example, I edit vocabulary during a session and it shows up on parents’ smartphones. This system keeps them constantly in the loop with their child’s AAC system.
We sometimes take on a caregiver role with our clients during school hours. We see them almost every day, so we often know what they want. This anticipation and ability to fulfill their wants or needs might even reduce communication opportunities once they begin using AAC. We should try to look past immediate payoff and think in longer terms. If we anticipate needs and prevent the use of AAC now, will it lessen chances of successful communication in the future? Does an AAC system open their world in a way not evident right now? These questions require some thought and the diligence of each team member to make sure AAC works now and in the future.
When we recommend AAC for a child, we know some ingrained behaviors might prevent lasting success. Communication, training and empowerment for each member of the team can result in a child becoming an effective total communicator for the rest of their lives.
Read more about implementing AAC:
Dan Fitch, MA, CCC-SLP, works in schools and private practice. He also consults with SuperPlus, the creators of SuperSpeak. Fitch is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education, and 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. firstname.lastname@example.org.