Would you want to learn a language that no one else speaks? Odds are, you probably don’t. Why then do we expect our students and our children to learn how to use different forms of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) when we do not use them? When we teach children spoken language, they are exposed to the language from day one or even before. Babies are spoken to and a few years later they begin to pick up the language and communicate themselves. What happens when we find out later that a child will be more successful with alternative communication? Often times, I have just given a student AAC, showed them what I wanted them to say, and responded back with spoken language. What I have learned is that we need to be having conversations with AAC. When I ask a question, I should ask on the device, I should model the answer or wait for an answer, then I should respond with the device. This is how I show students that their language is valuable and they are not the only ones using it.
In my classroom I try to model a program called LAMP. I mirror my LAMP screen to the interactive board and I show students how I find the words I want to say. I will admit, I am far from an expert at LAMP, but my students need to see that too. They need to see that sometimes I make a mistake and they need to see how I correct myself. Just like we do not expect babies to start speaking as soon as they hear us speak, we should not expect our students to reciprocate language on AAC immediately. There are students that pick up on AAC really quickly and they surpass my knowledge of the device. These students are so exciting to watch and makes it so easy to give myself a pat on the back for a job well done. There are some of my students that may not functionally use AAC while in my classroom. While this can feel very discouraging, I cannot stop modeling the language just because I do not see progress. Like any language, it takes time, a lot of time in some cases for someone to expressively speak a new language.
Another great way to teach AAC is with peer models. Kids tend to learn best from other kids, and that is true of communication devices as well. You can use friends, siblings, or even kids in the community. When I have been out in the community with a student, many kids will stare at the communication device because to them, it looks like my student gets to carry their IPad around all of the time. Parents are often embarrassed, but I think it is a wonderful opportunity to teach diversity and compassion to children at a young age. As a plus, I get a free peer model! Kids are almost always willing to speak on a communication device because it is new and it is technology. When you take your child out into the community there are endless opportunities to teach the community and snag some peer models in the process.
We need to show our students that they are valuable and that we are willing and excited to speak the same language they do.
Here are a couple of ways you can incorporate AAC symbols in a low teach way to help students generalize what they are learning. Below, you will see a schedule with LAMP pictures on it for students to follow and interact with throughout the day.
Finally, you will see a tri-fold board with all of the core LAMP words on it to give students a more tangible way to use their language.