Editor’s note: We’re hearing from school-based speech-language pathologists who want resources to share with parents during the COVID-19 disruption. Several SLPs told Leader editors they want to help parents ease changes in structure that might significantly affect their children with communication disorders, while also providing activities to continue their speech-language progress. Look for a series of blog articles starting soon that feature members’ stories of how they’re handling COVID-19 by work setting.
Often when I visit schools as an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) consultant, school-based SLPs and other school staff report carryover in AAC from school to home as their biggest challenge in helping a student become a more independent communicator.
Often, SLPs and educators include parents in deciding what AAC system to use, but not in training and implementation. Various reasons make including parents in AAC training difficult—no time for staff to train parents, parents can’t come to school during the day, a language barrier, other scheduling issues and more.
Especially as we navigate COVID-19-related school closures, providing parent training and resources for using AAC at home is will help keep students communicating. Although I’m only starting to do this, after a few sessions I see virtual parent training as an effective tool effective for parents of AAC-users. Today, for example, one of my students wanted a hug from her mom and I was able to direct mom to model “hug mom.” That was rewarding for both.
So, where can we as SLPs start to include and provide parents with AAC training and improve carryover of students using their device at home?
I’ve had success with these strategies:
- Starting parent training early is key. When evaluating preschoolers for AAC systems, I recommend parent trainings as part of my assessment. The unofficial training begins from the day that we first speak about their child and continues as the child begins to learn their AAC system. Even when the trainings end, I stay in touch with parents as questions come up, as well as to hear their concerns and follow the child’s achievements.
- Should this be a recurring service? In my experience, parent training for AAC generally is not a recurring service. Usually, just two or three sessions provide sufficient training, but I base this on family needs. I also make sure parent training gets included on the child’s IEP. Please note, this does not include having the parent present during sessions, which should be a continuous service. When I refer to parent training, I am discussing the overview of the system so that they can model, program, and understand how the vocabulary is set up. Without understanding the system, modeling can be difficult.
- Where should training take place? I often find offering training at the child’s home results in highest levels of success. Of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic, are using telepractice to offer parents resources and training. This still allows me to see where communication opportunities and challenges occur in the child’s environment. For example, when in kitchen, I can create communication opportunities based on the particular environment, such as asking a parent to model, “Can I eat dinner now?” “I want to eat chicken nuggets,” or “I am hungry.” We can also communicate various strategies to parents such as moving toys and snacks to different locations to create important communication opportunities.
- Is the child present during parent trainings? I tailor this approach for each situation. Generally, in my clinical experience, the parent trainings are for parents or caregivers and not for the AAC user. It can be ideal to work alone with parents to teach programming or other concepts, as well as to discuss challenges without the child present. However, for demonstrating specific strategies, such as modeling and the prompting hierarchy, the child should be present and an active participant.
- AAC parent trainings don’t require a fixed agenda. I don’t often go into training with a fixed agenda. I generally begin by reviewing the AAC system, going over core and fringe vocabulary, and teaching simple programming—editing a button or adding photos. I do always make sure to discuss how to set up the system. I also cover why left-to-right sentence structure is important, the difference between core versus fringe vocabulary, and why these concepts are important. Getting a parent and/or caregiver comfortable with the system is key.
- I primarily focus on implementation as the key goal for parents. What motivates the child? What family traditions or routine activities can I use to focus training? For one family I worked with, the parents and their child loved going to Shoprite together. I worked with them on various communication opportunities this daily outing provided. I also ask families if they recently went on vacation. This lets me show them how to create a story on their child’s communication app/device so that he/she can retell their travel experiences at school. Reviewing communication functions, modeling, and aided language stimulation is also a key part of the training.
- Don’t feel intimidated and be yourself! Often, I meet SLPs intimidated by parent training because they lack experience. I use the “follow the parents’ lead” strategy in helping make their child’s AAC system as successful as possible. It’s about connecting with the parents, learning their concerns, seeing where communication breakdowns occur, and helping them facilitate communication with their child. I also strongly encourage remaining empathetic—especially with parents of young children who are just learning about their child’s complex communication needs. We need to feel compassion but also encourage parents to feel confident in their abilities to facilitate communication.
- Review dos and don’ts of AAC. Although I don’t make a strict agenda, I always review specific dos and don’ts that parents might already know, but are worth going over anyway.
- Restrictions on! With the world of YouTube and other technology distractions, I train parents on restrictions for using an AAC device. If a child watches videos or plays games at home with the iPad hosting their communication app, this can directly affect progress. Help parents set up Guided Access to limit the device to accessing only the AAC app and avoiding distractions.
- Stay in touch. After parent trainings, I stay in touch with parents for many years. I’ve kept in touch with some parents for almost 15 years!
Supporting AAC-use at home may seem overwhelming. But holding just a few sessions with parents or caregivers and letting them know you’re available for future support can take little time for a great reward in the child’s successful use of AAC. A helpful resource is this post on the blog PrAACtical AAC, which links to the research article, “Effects of Parent Instruction in Partner-Augmented Input on Parent and Child Speech-Generating Device Use.”
How do you make sure parents get the AAC training they need to ensure their child’s communication successes? Please share your insights and strategies in the comment section below.
Becca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is an AAC consultant on the tech team at Westchester Institute for Human Development. She has written four children’s books and several games published by Super Duper Publications. She blogs and hosts her podcast at Language During Mealtime. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. email@example.com