Friday, January 18, 2013

A Missing Piece - AAC Implementation at Home

So often in the classroom we see AAC users who do not even bring their
speech devices home, never mind use them consistently there. Many of us know the thrill of opening up a child's speech device in the morning at school and realizing it has been used! I know in my classroom we get excited when a battery come in dead because it means the child used the device!

The parents who read this blog may be surprised at that, mostly because the parents who read this blog are usually the ones who are pushing for AAC to be implemented for their child. However, there are many parents who aren't interested in AAC for their child, who think it is just for school or who even refuse to let their child use AAC for one reason or another. Teachers and speech therapists sometimes run into former students years later only to learn that the years they spent teaching AAC meant little because as an adult the student no longer has a device or doesn't use it.

Why does this happen? Why do so few students use their devices at home and why do so many adults who used AAC in school fail to continue?

A big part of this is a failure of the school-home connection. We as teachers and therapists need to find ways to understand and appreciate what goes into implementing AAC at home, especially when there are so many other things that go into raising a child who has significant special needs. As we build our understanding we need to build systems and approaches to AAC implementation that bridge the gap between home and school. We need to help parents understand the power of AAC and help them feel more comfortable with leading their child through the process of learning to be a better communicator.

Let's face it, parents all over the world teach their children language. They aren't teachers or speech therapists. They haven't trained for years in language acquisition. They teach their children speech using modeling, shaping, repeating and recasting, and all sorts of other techniques they have probably never heard of. Yet we fail to empower parents of AAC users to do the same thing. We don't sit them down and say, "You can do this! Mom and dad just by you using this device in front of your child, by your responding to your child using this device and by acting as if device-use were verbal speech you can teach your child language!"

We also don't break it down. We don't say, "Week one just set it up every day. Week two model a sentence a day. Week three model two sentences a day..." We might never offer any training or encouragement and almost never do we go into our students' homes and demonstrate what we mean. But we need to. We must find ways to take this vital step.

In an ideal world children with significant special needs would have ongoing in-home consultation and training from their school staff. Teachers and therapists would be able to teach parents not just how to set up the device or program it but how to use techniques like Aided Language Stimulation (modeling) to increase their child's communication skills. Also in an ideal world parent would be able to attend training to become communication coaches.

Communication coaching would start simple. Essentially it would move slowly from helping parents see the value in bring the speech device home daily and having it present and powered up so it might be used to asking every family member to just model one sentence a day on the device without any demands but only an sense of expectation that their child respond in kind right through helping families find practical ways to use the speech device at places like the doctors, religious services and shopping.

(And realistically how many of us in schools consider what it must be like to take a child with multiple physical handicaps and all their equipment out and then worry about setting up the speech device? Have we even thought about how parents can carry all that stuff? My students always bring their speech devices out and use them during community based instruction but I know many who teachers either don't have community based instruction or leave the devices at school!)

It is time for teachers, therapists and administrators to find new ways to ensure communication success over a lifetime for AAC users. We have a world of technology at our finger tips, Skype, Google Plus Video Chats, video cameras on our phones with the ability to share at the touch of a button. Surely we can find ways to make a better connection for the sake of communication? We must find a way to work with families, taking into consideration their needs, so we can promote all of our students having a voice - wherever they are, forever.

(Many thanks to Samantha and her family for the use of the pictures!)



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  2. I am one of the parents who push for AAC and use it at home and on the go - we have a wheelchair mount for the device and use it many times we are out (not all). Even for us it is HARD and use it about 50% of the time I would like. Just how to move it about and placement, etc. are hard at home. It would be wonderful to have someone come to the house and suggest ways we can move it about easily. My daughter uses an eyegaze system which makes it all that much harder - it has to be a certain distance from her and set up "just so" to work. There just isn't an easy way to keep AAC in use all the time, not easy at all. But, truth is not having a way for my daughter to communicate is harder. Would love some suggestions on how to use such a device at home more easily. We've only had the device 3 months and are still in the learning phase of how to fit it into our lifestyle.


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