What happens when you get a bunch of curious, enthusiastic kids together in one place, on a non-school day? Throw in their favourite music, some cool toys, and delicious snacks – and you have yourself a roaringly fun time!
Avaz Adda was this and a whole lot more 🙂 Our primary goal in organizing Avaz Adda, a casual get together for Avaz AAC users, was to provide a space for communication FUN!! And the biggest bonus of this event was all the AAC learning that the kids and parents took back.
The Idea Behind Avaz Adda
Let’s get to the name first. Avaz Adda!! The Indian word ‘Adda’, which found its way to the Oxford English dictionary, means ‘a place where people gather for conversation’. There isn’t a better word that captures the essence of what we intended to do with Avaz Adda. We simply wanted to create a space where AAC users can converse and interact with each other.
Between speech therapy, school, and other daily activities, children rarely get time to have an informal conversation with fellow AAC users. Avaz Adda gave them an opportunity to hang out with other AAC users, observe them, interact with them, and pick up valuable skills along the way. We believe that there’s a lot children can learn from being around other AAC users. Many of these learnings may not even be immediately apparent, but are vital nevertheless. Most importantly, such interactions can normalize AAC use, and give AAC users a sense of belonging.
Our First Avaz Adda – The First of Many!
Lalitha Nagarajan, our Director of Community Relations, spearheaded the arrangements, meticulously putting together a list of activities where we could incorporate AAC use while making it fun for the children. The Avaz team ensured that there was no stone left unturned to ensure that the event was exciting for the children.
Parents were provided with an outline of the planned activities beforehand so that they could prepare their children for the event. The venue was easily accessible. Arrangements were made for an assigned safe space for children to calm themselves in case they got overwhelmed. Low tech boards printed out from the Avaz app were kept handy at various locations so that no communication opportunity was missed.
Avaz Adda Activities and AAC Strategies
Since there were a few AAC beginners, there was a brief pre-event session explaining AAC best practices for prompting and modelling. Once we ensured that all the Avaz AAC systems were customized and ready, we kickstarted the event with our first activity.
Here is the list of all the fun activities and a brief view on the strategies behind each activity:
This ice breaker activity was designed for the AAC users to introduce themselves to others. The children had conversations with Avaz volunteers using their respective AAC apps. Here are the AAC strategies behind this activity
- Generalization of Skills
Interacting with a wide range of communication partners helps children become comfortable with social interactions. Applying the AAC skills they learnt at therapy or school in a different setting, helps them understand that these skills can be used across various contexts.
- Expansion of Communicative Functions (Pragmatics)
This activity involves the following communicative functions:
- Answering Wh questions such as ‘What’ and ‘Who’.
- Greeting people
- Sharing information
request. As and when they requested a song using the Avaz AAC app, it was played over their headphones by an Avaz team member. From devotional songs to Beethoven, from flashy Indian movie numbers to classical renditions, the musical tastes of the children were truly diverse. It underscored the fact that each child was their own person, with their individual preferences, ideas, opinions, and thoughts.
Here are some of the AAC strategies at play in this activity.
- Communicative Temptations
This involves setting up an environment that tempts the child to communicate. The rationale for using a temptation is also a pretty simple one: a child is much more likely to communicate if they have a reason for doing so!
- Expansion of Communicative Functions (Pragmatics):
- Choice making (expressing a preference)
- Asking Questions
- Rejecting – STOP
- Pursuing an activity – MORE
The children had a chance to play ‘shopkeeper’ and ‘customer’ with the Avaz team guiding them through the activity. This was one of the activities that the children couldn’t get enough of. They used their AAC apps to purchase the items on their list and got to use real money for the transactions. The parents too enjoyed watching their children fill up their totes while learning to shop for essential things such as personal care items and groceries.
Here are some of the AAC strategies behind this activity.
- Life Skills
To navigate the world around them, children need to learn essential life skills. Mock shopping sessions give them a taste of what to expect during an actual shopping trip. Once they get familiar with the sequence of events, they can apply these skills in real life shopping scenarios.
Children learn to greet and use polite words such as ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’. They also learn to be patient by understanding that they have to wait for their turn.
Sensory Play Zone
Just like we had anticipated, this was an activity that children were very thrilled to participate in. They had fun playing with the sensory toys which they requested using their AAC apps. While some enjoyed blowing bubbles, others showed interest in playing with soft, crocheted balls of various sizes. The Djembe, especially, was a huge hit among the children who were keen to try their hands at playing the musical instrument. There was also an opportunity for interactive play with children taking turns blowing bubbles, and playing rhythmic patterns on the Djembe.
Here is why sensory play is important for children with special needs:
- Emotional Regulation and Stimulation
Sensory play activities stimulate the brain and help children become aware of their surroundings. Activities that stimulate all of the five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing can calm children when they experience a sensory overload.
Once we were done with all the activities, and the children were gleefully devouring the snacks (that they had requested with their AACapps), we spoke to the parents of Avaz AAC users. We were delighted to hear the nice things they had to say about the event.
“Very useful and informative. Learnt screen arrangements and modelling.”
“ I was really scared to join the workshop since the place and persons were new to my child. But at the end I was really happy. We had a good time. Thanks to Avaz team .Looking forward for more such workshops”
“Thanks Lalitha and Avaz Team for the initiative and ground work. Thanks friends for making it, it’s really a very good exposure.”
For a few children, this was the first time they had used Avaz AAC app to interact with a communication partner other than their parent or therapist. While there was some hesitation initially, it was promising to see how they were willing to communicate with others with a little encouragement. This proved that given the right support, AAC users can become confident about using AAC as their mode of communication. More than all these positive signs for AAC use, the happy smiles and joyous laughter at the very first Avaz Adda was what meant the most to our Team!
Here are a bunch of photos from Avaz Adda that have captured all the excitement and fun