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Highlighted article from Spring 2020 Issue:

Implementing AAC – A Team Effort

Lauren Padula, MS, CCC-SLP, ATP

Although the title may vary from district to district, educational assistants, paraprofessionals and personal aides, all play an integral role in the success of our augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and AAC specialist I observe firsthand the need to provide support for these individuals to feel comfortable and confident in implementing an AAC device. After eight years of oversight and assistance, I have come to discover a few things I’d like to share…

To begin with, SLPs should consider providing professional development to teachers, parents and support staff for AAC implementation. This is an incredibly impactful opportunity to get children started on the right path toward effective communication. Professional development by the school support teams alone can create dynamic effects in the implementation and application of AAC technology.

That being said, I’d like to review a few AAC implementation basics. These include access, modeling, vocabulary and communication opportunities. Each part of this process is an important part of the procedure and a basic understanding is paramount. After evaluations, recommendations are made and equipment is procured for the student, initial implementation of an AAC device should begin with having the AAC device available at all times. This is because students need to learn that the device is their voice. Along those lines of constant saturation, the use of visuals when exiting the classroom or on desks can be very effective.

Next, when it comes to modeling, the person modeling needs to have knowledge of the location of the vocabulary. Each student’s AAC device might differ in the button locations. Index cards with symbols of the button sequences along with the goal written on the back are a great visual support for everyone working with the AAC user. The index cards can be grouped together using a binder ring.

To get the most out of AAC, there has to be a combined effort amongst everyone involved. The goals for implementation should be a team discussion. Many first time users will ask the question, “Where do we start?” Well, a great start would be with the student’s schedule and the vocabulary we want the student to use during that time. Other important discussions involve your interests and jobs within the school community and how they relate to the student.

Sometimes people take their ability to communicate for granted. Students, especially those just beginning with their AAC technology need every opportunity to practice. Communication opportunities are a way for the AAC user to communicate meaningfully for different functions. We use communication to gain information, socialize and express our wants and needs. These different functions can include asking a friend to sit with them or play a game, give directions, tell a story, or compliment others. Creation of an AAC & All about Me flyer with the type of communication device, the vocabulary and goals, along with reminders to provide access, model and promote communication opportunities is a great way to keep everyone involved in the process and on the same page.

Remember, our AAC users are only as successful as their support staff is comfortable promoting the use of their communication!