Why are cooking/exercise videos so popular? Because most of us prefer watching how a pie is made or how to do a sideways plank than have someone explain it to us. It’s no different for AAC users. They learn how to use AAC by watching others use it. This is why Aided Language Stimulation (ALS) is considered an effective communication strategy for people with complex communication needs. ALS or “modelling”, as it is commonly referred to, is a strategy where the communication partner models language by using their verbal input while selecting vocabulary on the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind while modelling –
Use Every Communication Opportunity
Many communication partners tend to model only occasionally. We can see that neurotypical children develop language by hearing those around them use language repeatedly . Similarly, children with communication deficits need to observe people around them using the AAC device. So, it’s extremely important to create communication opportunities throughout the day, especially for emergent AAC users.
We can wish them ‘Good Morning’ using the AAC system and model during mealtimes regularly. Modelling language during playtime and while they are doing their favourite activities will also encourage them to explore the AAC device.
Core Words and Fringe Words
Core words are the small number of words that are used most frequently in our conversations. 80% of the words we speak are core words. Examples of core words are I, you, help, that, me, mine, stop, go, get, etc. Emergent AAC learners may be able to communicate their needs and interact socially using core words alone. So, we must model core words regularly for someone new to AAC because core words can be used in different settings and contexts.
Fringe words are words that are specific and cannot be used across different settings. Examples of fringe vocabulary are bottle, teacher, television, car, etc.
Customize the child’s AAC app so that the words they frequently use are easy to access. For example, if thechild is fond of a dinosaur toy, talking about it will get them motivated to communicate.
Generalization of Core Words
Making sure that we model the core word across different environments will help the child to apply the language skills they learned in various scenarios. Using it in several situations lets the child know that they can use the word in different contexts.
For example, if we are teaching “open”, we can model “open refrigerator” at mealtime. When we are about to get into the car, you can say “open door”. we can also ask them to ‘open book’ while reading or ‘open your eyes’ while playing.
Another example would be with the word ‘like’. We can ask, “Do you like the sandwich?” during lunch. While watching TV together, we can say, “I like this show”.
The word ‘like’ can also describe similarity. We can play a fun game with the child where they get to act like different animals. We can use that opportunity to teach the child that ‘like’ can also be used to indicate resemblance.
Ignoring Grammatical Errors
For emergent communicators, an overemphasis on grammar can slow down progress. Instead, we can just focus on the keywords of the sentence. For instance, we can type, “I go library” while we say, “I’m going to the library.” When the AAC user gets proficient enough, we can teach them how to make grammatically correct sentences.
Aided Language Stimulation for Progress
Always model at a level that is one or two words more than the child’s current level of communication. If the child is communicating single words without help, then model two or three words. Model more words and phrases regularly so that the child can improve their sentence length.
For example, if the child can utter ‘stop’ independently, model ‘stop now’ or ‘please stop’.
Some other two-word phrases we can model are Go out, Help me, Need help, Want more, Read it, etc.
If the child communicates two words, we can model three word phrases such as ‘Read it now’, ‘Want more food’, ‘Can I play?’, etc.
Use these modelling (Aided Language Stimulation) strategies consistently with the AAC users can help them to develop their communication and language skills. It also helps them become confident in using AAC to convey their thoughts and opinions.