By Meghan Kunz, Augmentative Communication Consultant
In preparation for a consultation with a clinician supporting a kiddo being evaluated for AAC, we discussed the child’s interests and I gained insight in how best to prepare for our time together. We talked about which toys were familiar and most likely to motivate the child. We agreed upon the bubble machine, car ramp, and which books to have available to help structure our time together.
Fast forward to that early a.m. appointment. Our little friend came into the session not at all interested in the toys we had available or the direction we were trying to lead him towards to create opportunities for engagement. As is the nature of this role, we were forced to be flexible and think quickly about how to best utilize our 30 minutes together. There was basically one option - follow the child’s lead.
On this particular day, when the child’s sensory system was on overload, and our structured activities were not the right support, we took the emphasis off of what we could not control and let the child lead us towards what was motivating to him. That day, he was most interested in opening his mom’s purse in an attempt to extract the car keys, because keys meant they were one step closer to leaving! We turned what could have been the end of the session into the beginning by making it playful, motivating, and using it as the platform to create communication opportunity!
For the next 30 minutes we placed an emphasis on our target vocabulary- high-frequency core words. Because this child is an early-emerging communicator, we were focused on using single words targeting words such as “more,” “go,” “stop,” “help,” and “that”.
We started by using the device to comment on what the child was doing, saying “go” as we pulled the keys out of mom’s purse. We then expanded the vocabulary we were targeting by zipping the purse open and closed and targeting “go” for opening and “stop” for closing. We further expanded by passing the purse around the room, opening and closing it, and saying “my turn,” “your turn”. We opened up the prepositions on the device, further expanding vocabulary targeting “on,” “under,” and “in” and let the child direct our actions as we put the keys in, on, and under the purse. The session did not go the way we initially had envisioned; it was way better!
Sometimes as professionals it can be hard to give up well-planned control over a session, but it really depends on your interpretation of control. If letting a child drive a session can mean we can be focused on the important stuff that is language, drive away, my little friend, drive away! Our interactions with kids can be unpredictable. Simply remember, no matter what happens, continue to place a focus on language. I now go into a session asking myself the most important question, “What core vocabulary am I targeting?” If you put the emphasis on the language to target in place of the activity in which you hope to target, you will always be prepared and in control, allowing language-learning to happen as you follow the child’s lead.
As professionals, we are so used to doing everything we can to be prepared and create structured opportunities, we sometimes overcomplicate it for ourselves. Did I go into this appointment thinking that I would be zipping a purse open and closed all session? No! Did it work and keep the child motivated and in a language-rich session for thirty minutes? Yep!
When we step back and take the focus off the activity and place it on the vocabulary, if the right words to target are chosen, we can find a way to target them in any session. If we replaced the purse with a toy car, my target words could still be: “go”, “stop”, “more”, “my turn”, “your turn”, etc. If we replaced the car and purse with a ball or the ball with a piece of fuzz, the same learning interaction can happen! When talking with an independent adult AAC user about what supports were most helpful as she learned her system, she said it best. “When it comes to AAC, apply the KISS method. Keep it simple silly!”
Stories and Strategies fo...