By Michelle Mineo, M.S. CCC-SLP, PRC Regional Consultant for Central Ohio and Open Territories
I decided post 40, with no real experience as runner, that I wanted to tackle a half marathon, 13.1 consecutive miles. Several very slow 5Ks later, I thought “I can do this.”
But I had no training partner, no information, no plan, just a very big goal. So, there were several attempts that ended in frustration and injury. Guess I needed a training plan after all.
So, I literally googled “how to train for a half marathon” and learned a lot about how to add miles (every week, my long run had one extra mile. I usually added 1-2 total cumulative miles per week). And it worked. I’ve now run 7 half marathons.
How does this relate to AAC and communication?
I say this to probably every family I meet.
“You don’t walk out your front door and run a marathon.”
You build foundational skills, and add slowly. You start with the easy 1 milers on familiar flat courses before you add the uphills in. I think to train for a half marathon, they recommend 30 minutes of running 3-4/week for 4 weeks to build the foundation, before you even start to really train and add miles. Because you need to build the core foundational skills first.
I don’t know many people who think “running isn’t a skill I use well/often, but I can go and run for 13.1 (or 26.2) consecutive miles” Consider AAC communication through the same lens. If you set the aspiration that “Starting on day 1, all day every day, Michelle will talk with her AAC device ,” you might not end up with a sprained ankle, but you might end up with some very frustrated communicators and/or partners, just like the non-runner who thinks he/she can run a marathon without establishing a running schedule and routine.
Look at your communication goals the way I tackled my running goals. Consider running an easy daily mile for the first week or first couple of weeks. (Lots of turns, opportunities to communicate, core words during the same activity every day). When that starts to feel good, add some miles (maybe two different communication opportunities during the same day) some hills (maybe adding in a new core word or two to the familiar activity) some new running partners (different communication partners). Some days it feels really good and you can add an extra mile in just because. Some days you’ll feel great and fast and successful, and other days you won’t. Not all movement is forward. Sometimes we need to decrease the miles, change the course or maybe try a different pair of shoes (add a keyguard, highlight buttons, change things up slightly so they feel more supported and comfortable, because the BIG GOAL is COMMUNICATION). But when you establish a training plan, add the miles in slowly and consistently, the PAYOFF can be huge.
Give yourself the grace to recognize COMMUNICATION is something we use all day every day. The goal is marathon strength and endurance, but you don’t open the door and run a marathon. And you don’t open your new AAC box and use it all day every day in meaningful, 8 word sentences. You build foundational skills and add on in way that feels good, growing communication opportunities, success, interpersonal relationships, independence.
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