The Autism Blog

Tips on AAC from SLPs – Resolve to Get Visual

February 11, 2016

Resolve to Get Visual: Five Tips on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) for Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs).

It’s the beginning of a new year and a great time to resolve to kick off 2016 by implementing visual supports for all kinds of learners, particularly those with ASD. It takes a little elbow grease but the outcome is worth the investment. Plus, it doesn’t have to be any more complex than getting your own day planner ready for the start of a new year. Here are five can-do reminders that address common barriers to diving in to AAC from Jo Ristow, SLP at Seattle Children’s Autism Center.

AAC is NOT always high-tech (such as the iPad). It’s true, high-tech AAC can be an investment of dollars and time but AAC can be as cheap as pencil and paper or a good printer. You already have all the tools you need to start. While iPads and apps have revolutionized the field, AAC predates iPads by many years. Plus, there are some advantages to low-tech AAC – nothing needs to be charged, it’s more portable, less expensive, can go with you to the pool, and no one wants to steal picture symbols! Not every kid needs an iPad but every kid needs a means of communicating. One child I work with uses a portable dry-erase board. It can be that easy.

 AAC doesn’t have to be difficult to learn. AAC runs the gamut from high-tech, cutting edge programs to extremely simple and accessible picture and written supports. Just think visual. Can you draw smiley and frowny faces to talk about feelings? Can you print out three clip art pictures to offer choices? Can you use visuals that you already use in your own life such as a calendar or planner to support your students’ communication and understanding? If so, you’re on your way to using AAC! The most important thing is to just start trying to use visuals in your lessons and expand from there. Aim for a robust language system, but starting small is better than not starting at all.

Also, remember that our students benefit from our mistakes. I rarely have to directly teach a child to use the backspace button on a high-tech AAC device because they see me doing it so frequently that they learn from my mistakes. And searching fruitlessly for a vocabulary word is a nice way to naturally demonstrate behavior-regulation strategies such as taking a deep breath, modeling self-talk, and being persistent. Or sometimes it is a great way to model words like “Whoopsie!” “This is hard!” or “I’m frustrated!”

AAC is not that different from traditional therapy. Good therapy skills transcend the tools you’re already using. Techniques such as modeling, expanding utterances, and providing communication temptations are all at play in AAC. You basically have to remember to point to visuals while using the traditional techniques.

More students than you might think benefit from AAC. We all use AAC in our lives. When’s the last time you picked up a phone and called someone? Today we tweet, text, IM, email. Think how emojis enhance your message! Studies show that kids who don’t talk benefit from using AAC and AAC may jumpstart verbal ability. For those who are verbal, AAC can increase the quality of their communication whether it’s speaking in longer sentences or communicating for different purposes such as asking questions or sharing ideas.

AAC doesn’t have to be a lot of work to implement. It’s true that the success of the AAC user depends a lot on the adults in their environment using and modeling but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In this age of technology, accessing pre-made AAC is as simple as running a Google search and hitting the PRINT button. The high-tech devices are more and more robust and evidence-based in their organization of vocabulary, so it is often a matter of creating a few buttons and trying it out.

Like all New Year’s resolutions, it’s ok to start small and measureable and work your way towards something that could make life a lot easier. Who knows where you’ll be this time next year!

Some handy websites for AAC: