Until recently, my biggest regret since finishing graduate school in 2015 was not being proactive enough in learning more about augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
If you’re still reading this, you probably understand the challenges we as speech-language pathologists face with AAC assessment and treatment—not to mention actively engaging other professionals, accessing funding, finding opportunities for training and dealing with bureaucratic barriers. You most likely also experienced some other obstacles to success, including time constraints, attitudes, access limitations and student/patient cognitive-motor-sensory deficits.
During those early weeks of working as a school-based SLP, I often felt I needed to know more about how best to serve students with the complex communication needs. I quickly found out most schools didn’t offer many resources for high-tech communication devices, so I spent hours creating low-tech systems for my students.
I wondered if I was using appropriate clinical judgement and evidence-based approaches in supporting my students and their communication partners. What I did know was that not knowing is not an excuse.
More on AAC:
Taking these steps helped me feel confident in my work with students—and their families—in using AAC:
Deconstruct the stigma. Negative attitudes toward AAC systems may include operational difficulties, issues of identity, and lack of perceived benefit. Help students, families and other educators understand the benefits of AAC.
Engage in online communities. The wide reach of the web helps connect people with various expertise and can provide useful information if you make sure the source is credible. PrAACtical AAC has plenty of resources including evidence-based practice, IEP goals, articles and strategies. The organization also has a frequently updated Facebook page. Another active online community is AAC for the SLP, where members ask questions and exchange information regarding AAC implementation.
Use available resources. The International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) provides valuable information about how to improve the lives of children and adults who use AAC. The Indiana Resource for Autism developed a list of Website Resources for Augmentative/Alternative Communication. Check out AAC at PSU for some of the latest research projects on addressing complex communication needs, literacy and visual displays.
And, of course, ASHA offers numerous resources on a variety of AAC topics. The Practice Portal offers curated and peer-reviewed content on clinical topics. There are evidence maps relating to external scientific evidence, clinical expertise and client perspectives on AAC. The evidence maps include practice areas, AAC systems, design and accessibility considerations, client characteristics and special considerations. Think about joining ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, for clinical support and professional development opportunities.
A quick search of AAC on The ASHA Leader will lead you to some of the latest research and practice advances in the field. Other posts on this blog site also offer insights and experienced examples of approaches to treating clients using AAC.
Build your arsenal. Lack of knowledge is the largest barrier to successful AAC implementation. Use online education/implementation tools such as Project Core or AAC Institute for research-based practices. Look to your professional network to see if training opportunities are available through the state association, local educational diagnostic center or university. Be sure to stay updated on your state’s laws and education code on AAC to make sure you are in compliance.
Interested in clinical research? Check out The Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinical Assessment Project. They are currently seeking SLPs to try out protocols.
Collaborate. Teamwork is a crucial component in service delivery. Using tools such as the Communication Matrix or Communication Partner Instruction helps develop functional goals and strategies. Check out this hour-long video—Training Communication Partners—for more in-depth information on practical tips and strategies for effective clinical practice. Be proactive about dedicating time in your schedule to educate communication partners.
Monica C. Hudnall, MA, CCC-SLP, specializes in autism spectrum disorder and culturally/linguistically diverse populations. She’s provided treatment in public schools and early intervention, serving 18-month to 21-year-olds with mild to severe communication impairments in the San Francisco Bay area. firstname.lastname@example.org