By Merryn Horsfall, Speech-Language Pathologist (B.SpPath) AAC Consultant Liberator Australia
In my role as a Speech Pathologist & AAC Consultant with Liberator in Australia, I regularly have the privilege of visiting education settings where professionals are supporting the implementation of speech-generating devices for the first time. More often than not, these therapists, teachers & assistants are eager to support their students with these new systems in any way they can, but can feel overwhelmed with the new technology or language systems presented.
On each of these occasions, I have encountered professionals with a plethora of skills for supporting low-tech AAC, receptive & expressive language development, play-based learning – and even just a knack for figuring out what motivates their students! The first step in this process is to remind staff of what they already know. Although the technology may be unfamiliar, or the vocabulary may be arranged in a different way, the strong principles of language modelling that they have already been applying in their classrooms need not be thrown out the window.
Some general examples: - Have you been using sign language/key word signs to provide an additional visual model for key words? Think of key, or CORE words, that you have been drawing attention to in these sentences, locate where these words are on the student’s device (use Icon Tutor or Word Finder on your PRC device), and consider the contexts that you can continue to apply these to. Emphasise these in the same way, by generating core words on the device and filling in the gaps with speech.
Have you been using a low-tech system, such as picture exchange or an aided-language display? Take note of the prompting and modelling techniques that you might have used – asking open-ended questions, an expectant delay, the hierarchy of verbal and nonverbal prompts – these are important ways to encourage use of a speech-generating device. I love this handout from Rocky Bay in Western Australia, for an overview of the prompting hierarchy:
How do you support your verbal students to expand their vocabularies, and their ability to interact with others using a variety of communicative functions? Exposure to the same language-rich environments that are crucial for spoken language development are no less important for those using high-tech AAC. Think of what you have in your toolkit already: the trusty ‘Mr Potato Head’, ‘Guess Who’ and other go-to board games are great opportunities for both student and communication partner to learn to apply core words in different contexts. Shared reading with an emphasis on core words, then using your device’s word search function to locate these (together!), adds another context.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – learn which tool within the device will help you learn new words (hint - Icon Tutor/Word Finder!), identify opportunities for communication (hint – all day!) and start talking!
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