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“He’s Just Playing With The Device!” Playing Vs. Learning An AAC Device

Posted Jul 8, 2020 - 2:33pm

By Liz Heisler, M.A. CCC-SLP,  PRC-Saltillo Consultant

As a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and as an assistive technology consultant, I often get feedback from communication partners (e.g., anyone who interacts with the person using the AAC system) of our AAC users such as, “He’s just playing with the device” or “She just likes to hear it”. My consistent response is, “You’re right! And isn’t that great?” What a better way to learn a new language by exploring it! Learning an AAC device is like learning a new language – it is a new system of words organized in a particular way to communicate. When you learned a second language in school, did you often try pronouncing new words in that language? Did you often “play” with how words sounded by saying the same word over and over? As we develop verbal language from birth there are stages of babbling, first words, and then combining words. In that early stage of babbling, we often see our children playing with their words. They love to hear their newfound voice. It is an essential step in their language development!

By taking a step back and re-thinking how an AAC user might ‘play’ with a device or like to ‘hear’ it, we can see that this is a significant step in learning to use their AAC device. There are some ways we, as communication partners, can make this initial step of learning an AAC device more meaningful and pertinent to daily communication needs for our AAC users.

  • Make it purposeful. As the AAC user is consistently saying the word ‘red’, make it purposeful! Point out everything that is red in the room or get out all the red crayons in your classroom.
  • Respond to their mis-hits. As the AAC user selects ‘stop’ by accident, respond! “Oh, you want me to stop the music.” “Let’s stop playing with the ball.” By responding to their communication on the AAC system allows us to show them what the word they are selecting/touching means; it provides context.
  • Communicate with the AAC user at their level. As the AAC user continues to hit ‘go’ several times – communicate with them at their level using aided language input. Use the device to say, “Oh you want to *go* home?” or “Oh, let’s *go* outside!” Use the device to communicate with them!
  • Do not remove the device. Treat our AAC users like everyone else. For a person who is using their voice during a quiet time, do you take away their vocal cords? Or does that person receive a consequence? When a device user is using their device incessantly during a quiet school assembly, it can be appropriate to give a consequence, but that never involves taking away their AAC device.

Never underestimate our AAC device users! They are changing the world one word at a time.  Allow them the appropriate amount of time to play with their devices using the techniques shared.


Stories and Strategies fo...  -    play, therapy, aac, speech, learning