Hello friends! I was recently lucky enough to deliver some of the district owned AAC devices to students in my building. Seeing the excitement in their eyes and watching how quickly regaining access to their communication devices empowered them inspired me to share a few tips I’ve learned over the years working with AAC users in the school setting. These tips don’t center around funding, device selection, high vs. low tech, or core vs. fringe vocabulary selection. They are easy to implement, don’t require any $, and will hopefully bring a little more ease into your work with AAC users in the school setting.
1. Keep a growth mindset. Being a school-based SLP, you likely have access to a variety of AAC devices at no personal cost. Keep trying communication systems until you find one that works! This seems obvious, but it can be discouraging when you feel like you are working so hard and NOTHING is working. If you feel like you are at the bottom of your toolbox of ideas, climb back up to the top and try those SAME things you tried last year again! Just because your student wasn’t ready for them YET (last year), doesn’t mean he/she isn’t ready for them now.
2. Find out what motivates your students, and focus on those words-especially in the beginning. This may have you blowing bubbles, listening to music, eating pretzels, pulling kids through the halls in a wagon, or playing on the slide….GREAT! Empower your students by helping them realize their output serves a purpose.
3. Empower staff members who work with your students. If your student is going to be seen one on one (see tip #4), then see them in the classroom they spend the most time in at least one time per week if at all possible. We can rant and rave about what a great job “Joey” is doing on his communication device, but when the teachers and paraprofessionals actually SEE “Joey” requesting bubbles and lighting up when you blow them-they might be blown away! (See what I did there 😉 ) Modeling how to help “Joey” use his device with materials found in his classroom is another great way to help teachers feel less overwhelmed about learning a new system. Write down these suggestions so they stay in the room after you leave. Also tell teachers what NOT to do. This seems negative and bossy, but most often they just don’t know! Talk about prompt dependency and how difficult it is to fade BEFORE it becomes an issue.
4. See your AAC users with other students! Not necessarily every contact per week, but at least for one of them! It is difficult for many students in special education to establish meaningful relationships with their peers, especially AAC users. “Different” can be intimidating to students, and grouping your AAC users with non-AAC users can be a great way to help students establish relationships and demystify AAC. It is also a great opportunity for your AAC user to hear peer language models. I will be the first to admit, this can be tricky at times. It will be more work for you in the beginning, but I’d highly recommend picking a set amount of time and sticking with your group for at least a quarter. Once the students, and you, get used to the new dynamic, things should start to run smoother!
Do you have any tips for working with AAC users in the school setting? I’d love to hear what works for you! Thanks for stopping by!