It’s always exciting to see kids with limited speech and language abilities respond to the use of visually supported communication tools and strategies. Images are easy to recognize and recall, making the transference of information universal…no matter what the ‘language’ might be! It’s easy to understand something visual, even if we can’t read the script or verbalize its name or meaning.
I routinely help teachers and speech therapy staff create adaptive communication supports and modify classrooms to create a language immersion environment for young learners. Unfortunately, just talking about augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can scare the life from those unfamiliar with the process! While the terminology may sound intimidating, it really isn’t that complex for this particular group. In the next few posts, I’d like to offer some information, ideas, and resources to help those in the school setting alleviate their fears and elevate their enthusiasm for using AAC in the classroom with young students!
Let’s start by looking at AAC terminology here:
Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC): anything that can be used to supplement (augmentative) or substitute (act as an alternative for) verbal speech can be considered an AAC option. These may include some form of voice output (speech generating) device, modified visual supports within the curriculum, and/or strategies for interaction that involve the use of visual supports. An AAC ‘system’ would be the combination of tools and supports that are deemed most effective for each user.
Multi-modal Communication Strategies: We “communicate” in many ways. Examples include the use of verbal speech, sign language, body language, hand or facial gestures, device supports, and/or visual supports. Since our young students with disabilities are still learning to comprehend language, they need complete immersion using ALL methods to enhance understanding and foster communication exchanges.
No-Tech Strategies: The use of printed communication materials, eye gaze systems, pointers, object boards, and communication books are considered No-tech supports
Low to Mid-Tech Tools: Tools that offer voice output and require a battery are generally referred to as Mid-tech options. Examples might include a Big Mack single message device or a GoTalk 20+, a multi-message device, or similar
High-Tech Tools: Communication supports that require digital programming are referred to as high-tech tools. Examples might include an AAC app used on a digital tablet or a commercially purchased speech generating device (SGD) systems
Classrooms should first consider the least invasive, most age-appropriate interventions. and progress the user through toward more high-tech options as his/her skills increase. I have provided a list of my favorite Low-Mid Tech AAC tools here to give an idea of the kinds of voice output supports that classrooms should have on hand when creating a language-rich environment. (These are for general reference and are not intended to promote one brand over another.) Over the next few posts, I will provide printable resources, ideas, and additional resources for integrating AAC tools and strategies into the early elementary and preschool classrooms!