Co-written by: Beth Browning, Senior PRC Consultant, southern Indiana, Jennifer Herzog, PRC Consultant, Arkansas, Jennifer Vallier, PRC Consultant, Illinois, Meghan Kunz, PRC Consultant, Minnesota, Samantha Strong, PRC Consultant, Colorado, Nicole Wingate, PRC Consultant, northern Indiana
Successful use of a communication device requires ample time to practice its use across a variety of settings and situations with different communication partners. For this to happen, we need team members to be invested in and to take ownership of device implementation.
The “team” includes anyone who has direct contact with the device user: teachers, therapists, paraprofessionals, peers, family, & other caregivers. It is important to identify your team and make sure each person is aware of their role and responsibilities for device implementation.
When there is buy-in among team members, the device user can feel more accepted and included. We have witnessed personalities shine and confidence skyrocket when individuals are given a voice that is accepted, respected, and included. In addition, team buy-in results in:
- increased collaboration and the opportunity to grow relationships, build rapport, and support one another
- building capacity for modeling the AAC system and supporting its use
- the individual having access to their AAC system all day, every day
- reduced likelihood of device abandonment
- better understanding of the purpose of AAC
Why then, is it so difficult to get team buy-in? We have identified several barriers to buy-in:
- lack of hands-on time to learn the AAC system and be familiar with device operations and vocabulary organization
- feelings of overwhelm, incompetence, and inadequacy due to lack of training
- frequent turn-over in personnel
- depleted energy to continually provide communication opportunities throughout the day
- attitudes tainted by previous failed AAC attempts or not presuming the individual’s potential for using AAC
As Douglas B. Reeves says in Leading Change in Your School: How to Conquer Myths, Build Commitment, and Get Results, “Behavior precedes belief - that is, most people must engage in a behavior before they accept that it is beneficial; then they see the results, and then they believe that it is the right thing to do....implementation precedes buy-in; it does not follow it.”
Therefore, if implementation precedes buy-in, one of the best ways we can achieve buy-in is to get the team engaged in the device implementation itself. But how do we accomplish that with all the barriers in our way? One idea is to allow teams to come up with their own goals and directives about which language or communication skills to target first. When the team makes their own decisions about what skills the student will be working toward, they feel empowered and more motivated to tackle them. One tool your team might find helpful is the Pragmatics Profile of Everyday Communication Skills in Children available on the AAC Language Lab. This exercise requires the team to describe how the student currently accomplishes a variety of language functions (requests, protests, greetings, asking questions, etc.). Does he/she use eye pointing, body movements, facial expressions, vocalizations, word approximations, signs, or AAC modalities to communicate them? This allows the team to quickly identify which areas should be targeted for growth and prioritize them. For example, “X bites herself when trying to gain attention. Let’s work on getting her to raise her hand or use her communication device to say ‘excuse me’ instead.” or “X does 2-word requests on his device with dad, but just grabs what he wants when he is with mom. Let’s work on generalizing that skill to other communication partners.” When you involve the team in determining the student’s strengths and challenges, you can empower them to set meaningful goals that will motivate them to implement the device. Once they see the success it has, they will buy-in to using AAC with the student which will lead to even greater outcomes!
Other ideas for building team buy-in:
- Show your team that the student can successfully use the device through videos or in-person consultative demos.
- Connect with a PRC-Saltillo Ambassador to envision the potential! Nothing does more to impact buy-in than a successful device user!
- Host “Top-Modeler” events at your school with prizes such as gift cards, a pass on recess duty, extra ½ hour for lunch, etc.
- Use a set of unified words of the month. Keep it simple, consistent, and visible by printing a list of words or symbol sequences and attaching them to the back of the device so that everyone on the team will know which words are being taught, modeled, reinforced, etc.
- Provide time for adults to use devices away from students so they can practice without pressure.
- Use Google products (Docs, Slides, Notes, etc.) to collaborate with school, home, and private team member to keep everyone on the same page.
- Make device implementation really fun and multi-sensory using activities like cooking or games.
Finally, consider expanding the definition of your “team” to include the building principal, special education director, superintendent, and even school board members! Gaining administrative support from the top down can lead to natural buy-in from other team members. You can schedule an opportunity to present at a school board meeting - not to ask for anything, but to show what awesome work you’re doing and the progress your students are making! Or host special events throughout the year and invite them in to your classroom! When administrators see the impact AAC makes in students’ lives, they believe in the potential and start to buy-in to AAC too!
Stories and Strategies fo... - AAC, team, implementation, PRC, Saltillo, communication, barriers