We want the best for our children or clients. But despite the best of intentions, we may slip up from time to time. What are some of the common AAC mistakes we make? In this blog, Avaz’s resident SLP Nayantara tells you what to look out for and how to avoid them!
We have read a lot about the important role a communication partner plays in supporting an AAC user’s journey and what they have to do to get it right. Along with learning what to do, it is as important to know what NOT to do as a communication partner. In this article you will find a list of AAC mistakes that you need to avoid. This is a detailed list and it may be hard to remember to avoid all these mistakes, but as a start, reading this and being aware of the possible mistakes is a good first step. Your speech therapist can then support you and your family members to put all of these into practice.
So families and caregivers, here is a list of what you should NOT be doing when interacting with your AAC user:
- Looking down or looking away while the AAC user is typing their message.
- Saying “be quick, you are too slow, type faster” or in an attempt to speed up the conversation, looking over their shoulder and reading the AAC user’s message before they finish it
Conversations may look different but the same social rules apply. Refrain from interrupting a person’s train of thought whether through spoken word or on an AAC device.
- Locking up the AAC device or putting it away until they need it.
Remember, this is like closing a person’s mouth and not allowing them the opportunity to talk if they wanted to.
- Giving the new AAC device, asking a question and expecting a response, without modelling
- Not giving enough wait time for the AAC user to respond after modelling
Modelling is the first step in your AAC journey, if you are not talking with AAC, then it is unfair to expect the AAC user to do the same.
- Prompting every attempt made by the AAC user whether the user needs the prompt or not
- Using Physical prompting (even if hand-under-hand prompting in some situations is acceptable)
Be wary of your prompting. Instead, equip your AAC user to ask you for help when they need it.
Mode of Communication
- Forcing use of the AAC device to communicate every message and ignoring other modes of communication (e.g. gestures, signs, etc) e.g. “Show it on your AAC device or else I won’t give you chips”
If you are not allowing for multimodal communication (communication using a combination of methods like gestures, words, body language, pictures, etc), then you are putting pressure on your AAC user to communicate the way YOU want to instead of how THEY would want to communicate.
- Not acknowledging a response attempt made by the AAC user but just continuing on with the conversation
- Walking away from a communication breakdown- if you did not understand what the AAC user meant, not helping them to try again and clarify their message, but just giving up and walking away.
We should celebrate every little attempt at interaction or communication in the AAC journey. Your AAC user is trying something that is extremely complex to learn and implement, so we have to acknowledge that and cheer them on, every step of the way.
- Asking another question even before the AAC user answered the first one, in order to help their understanding
- Asking questions whose answers you already know. This can be seen as testing the child rather than communicating with the child – E.g. “What is this?”, while pointing to an object. Instead, you can ask questions like “Are you hungry / tired?” etc.
- Asking too many questions instead of engaging in comments and other functions of communication – e.g. feelings, describing, etc.
- Giving a choice between only 2/3 options, without an option of DIFFERENT or SOMETHING ELSE
These are probably the most common AAC mistakes. Questions are our ‘go-to’ in conversations but think about how useful they are to someone who is learning to communicate.
- Speaking on behalf of the AAC user without consent for AAC users of ALL ages
- Deciding the goals in therapy without consulting the AAC user’s opinion
It is very important to always include the AAC user in any decision making process involving them.
- Using AAC as a table-top activity at fixed times during the day or during therapy only.
- Not engaging all family members in the use of AAC at home.
In order for the AAC user to generalise the communication learnt in therapy, it is important to practice at home. This home practice is key to effective learning and without this, it is very hard to see any progress.
- Using AAC for academics only and not for communication through the day
- Using the AAC system as a ‘choice board’ instead of for communication.
- Not following the child’s lead or interest and insisting on continuing with your plans for AAC engagement.
Communication is in the name (AAC). It has been noted that families use the pictures available to them on the AAC device to set up visual schedules, teach social stories but if you aren’t also using the device for communication, then you need to rethink your AAC usage.
Hope all families of AAC users can stay away from these AAC mistakes and support their users to communicate effectively and independently. Work with your Speech Therapist to help you correct these AAC no-no’s and move forward in your AAC journey.
Nayantara Nambiar, MSP, BASLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Trained in India and Australia, I am passionate about supporting people with communication and swallowing difficulties. Equipped with experience in Rehabilitation, School and Early Intervention settings, I strive to provide a holistic intervention approach tailor-made for my clients and their families.