AAC - Getting started - Part II

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Part II: Getting Started

I remember the day we put a speech device in front of our daughter. I genuinely thought she would pick it up and thank me for taking such good care of her. That turned out not to be true. In the beginning, using the device felt awkward and I interpreted that to mean I was doing it wrong. Now that I am helping other families to use speech devices, I always tell them that using the device is not going to come naturally at first. It’s going to feel weird because you and your child are learning to communicate using a completely different method than you are used to.

Step 1: Find a motivator. Della will not do anything unless she is motivated. If this sounds like your child, the key to using the device is to find something that they really want. A few ideas are bubbles, books, a special snack, or a certain toy.

Step 2: Start with one button. Show your child what you want them to do by pressing the button yourself. Next, take your child’s hand and help them press the button. Then act as if the child had asked for it all by themselves and offer them the item. We want to teach our children that an action (pushing a button) has an effect (getting what they want). You might have to repeat this process 200 times before they understand, so don’t give up!

Step 3: Start with 5 minutes a day. I don’t know about your child, but Della has an extremely short attention span and she wouldn’t want to sit and blow bubbles with me for longer than 5 minutes. We want to avoid frustrating our children when they use the communication device. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of modeling and showing our children what we want them to do. Get the whole family involved. Everyone who asks for bubbles, gets bubbles.

Step 4: Each button means something different. When your child seems to have a grasp of pressing the button to get what they want, it’s time to introduce a second button with another motivating item. Continuing with the previous example, let’s use bubbles for the first button and a book for the second button. With two buttons on the screen, go through steps 1-3 with the new book button. However, if your child pushes the bubbles button, honor their request and give them bubbles. They might get upset because they actually wanted the book, in which case you can say “Oh, you wanted the book.” Then take their hand and help them press the correct button. If they are happy with either item (as my child is), then make the second button something they don’t want like broccoli or a random object. I like to call this method sabotage because we are setting up the environment for our children to learn that being specific in their communication can get them what they want. 


What has been your experience with AAC? Do you have any questions? Please share with us in the comments below.