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Back to School with AAC

Posted Aug 22, 2018 - 11:32am

By Christine Kramlich, M.Ed

It’s that time of year when, as a parent, we are out shopping for clothes and school supplies and getting excited that our kids are starting back to school. But for many years, I had double duty because I was preparing my classroom for those eager (and not so eager) learners to come into my home away from home as well. The preparation and energy that goes into making that classroom look perfect for open house was thought through for weeks and sometimes months as I wanted to make it just right. Organization was needed so that my class could run like a well-oiled machine. .

Since I’m no longer in the classroom, I have a chance to ponder from the outside. How would I set up a classroom that would promote augmentative alternative communication (AAC)? What would that classroom look like and how would it be used? So, I’ve come up with a few things that I think might be helpful in encouraging the use of AAC at school, although I’m sure some of these same strategies could be used at home as well.

First of all, one might consider labeling the environment. When I was a teacher, I used to label the environment with vocabulary such as “chair” or “door” where I put the word of the item on it. However, I wonder if it would helpful to have some things that you might say near the door such as “open it”, “close it”, “who’s there”, “come in” or “go out” and on the chair you might put the words “sit down”. Ideally, these labels would be accompanied by images or icons from the AAC system as well. That way, literacy and AAC use are both being developed. You can do the same thing for work tubs (i.e. clock might be “tell time” and money might be “how much”), classroom jobs (i.e. line leader might be “first” and lunchroom helper might read “clean up”), and much more.


Another thing that might be helpful in a classroom setup for AAC would be to post a large copy of the student’s device on the wall. This way, when the teacher is instructing, they can point to words on the wall that match with what the child sees on their device. For instance, the teacher might say “it’s your turn” while pointing to the word “turn” on the wall or “let’s go to lunch” while pointing to the word “go” on the wall.

AAC screen

AAC screen

Finally, adapting materials for the classroom would be another great way to assist AAC users with their device. For instance, you might modify a book by putting some images of key words from the book on the pages of the text. It’s nice if these can be velcroed into the book because then you can use different images for different device users. Also, you can remove them as the child decreases their need for the visual support.


I’d love to hear from you if you have some great ideas for how to engineer your classroom to promote AAC use! Christine Kramlich, M.Ed., Christine.kramlich@prentrom.com

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