You analyzed all the AAC apps in the market and have introduced the best app to your child. You’re thrilled that they are using the app to communicate with you. You are looking forward to your child developing communication skills by exploring the app. But did you know that learning how to be a good communication partner is as important as your child learning to use the AAC Communication device?
Communication is essentially an exchange of information. Its efficacy depends on the communication skills of all parties that are part of the interaction. Your ability to be a good communication partner can substantially influence your interaction with an AAC user. Therefore, it is important that people who regularly interact with children using AAC apps focus on acquiring skills that enable them to communicate efficiently.
Here are a few strategies you can practice to become a more effective communication partner –
Modelling is an important aspect of communication through AAC. Model consistently to show the child how the AAC system can be used. Creating opportunities to model motivates the children to learn how to use the AAC devices.
Focus on modelling the keywords or core words when you are getting started. Once the child gets familiar with AAC, you can expand their vocabulary by modelling more words. Ignore the grammatical errors as long as they don’t affect the meaning of the messages. You can correct the grammar when the children are ready for it. Avaz has an useful feature wherein you can print your child’s vocabulary from the app. That way, you can easily continue modelling in settings where you cannot carry the device.
When the child is just getting started with the AAC system, you may ask simple questions to encourage the child to use the AAC system. However, communication is complex and involves more than asking Yes/No questions. Make sure your conversation with the child includes making observations and expressing opinions.
By asking only questions, you are controlling the conversation. This leads to the child having no say on the topic chosen and they end up having to take a backseat in the conversation. The child is merely responding and does not have the opportunity to initiate conversations.
Talk about topics that may interest the child. Their favourite TV shows or books, perhaps. Use AAC devices to describe how your day at work was, or talk about what you are planning to make for dinner. Discussing everyday things such as food and clothes with the child enables the child to talk about their preferences. Talking to your child about diverse scenarios also paves the path for them to use language for real communication. This increases the chance of them having meaningful conversations and fostering significant relationships.
Giving Them Time
A child new to AAC can take time to respond using AAC apps. Therefore, it is important to be patient. Don’t get discouraged by their lack of response. Some AAC users may take longer to process your input. If you asked a question or made a comment, pause before proceeding with the next input.
Typing messages using AAC devices takes time. Communication partners must be instructed to wait for the AAC user’s response.This includes siblings and peers at school. Rushing them to respond immediately or moving on without waiting for their response can be counterproductive.
While prompting can motivate the child to interact using AAC, it is also important to be prudent about the number of prompts used. Keep in mind that too much prompting can make the child rely heavily on you for communication.
There are several types of prompts including verbal, gestural, physical prompts, etc. Different children may respond to different prompts. So try a mix of these and choose prompts that work best for your child.
It is also important to be mindful of the amount of information given through a prompt. Use more prompts while introducing new concepts or features of the AAC system. Use fewer or less intrusive prompts once the child has enough understanding of the concept/feature.
Planning Your Response
Respond to the intent of the child by acknowledging the communication. The quality of your response can affect the quality of communication. Therefore, think of appropriate responses when your child interacts with you through AAC device. If the child says, ‘no cookie”, to indicate that there are no cookies at home, do not just say Yes. Instead, you can respond by saying that you have plans to go to the store to buy cookies.
When the child speaks a word through their AAC system, you can try to further build their language skills. For example, if the child types “banana” on the AAC communication device , ask “Do you want a banana?” by modelling the words ‘want’ and ‘banana’. You can also rephrase the child’s message to let the child learn the different ways to convey a message.
Be it at home or at school, every communication partner of an AAC user has a major role to play. The more mindful the partners are in their thought and practice, the greater the ease of the children with the AAC devices. Even when you do not fully comprehend a child’s message, assume that the child had said something meaningful, and respond accordingly. This can instill confidence in the child, and encourage them to consistently use AAC communication device for their social interactions.