AAC can be scary to a lot of people. Well, not scary-scary but just something unfamiliar that makes them reeeally nervous. Especially those people who don’t spend a lot of time with our kids, but still interact with them. So naturally, they shy away from it or interact very little with students who use AAC. They aren’t being rude they are just uncomfortable because they don’t know what to do. So how do we solve this problem? We educate them. We give them small, achievable tasks to perform to build up comfort and confidence.
Here is where to begin.
STEP ONE: EDUCATE
Before we can do something we need to learn what to do. Over the years I have invited many classroom teachers, specials staff ( art, music, p.e., etc ) and administration to short meetings to share about AAC so they at least know the basics. Remember, these people are not SLPs, so try and keep the technical jargon down and make things more relatable.
I bring in some low tech examples, visual necklaces and such, and then I bring in some high tech examples of the programs my kids use. I explain why someone might use an AAC device and why some kids may show behaviors because of it. I heard a great example a few years ago and have used it since. It always seems to connect really well.
” Pretend you are a nonverbal student who just drank two gatorades and got on the bus to go to school. Your ride is 30 minutes. When you get to school you HAVE TO GO! Remember, you aren’t able to tell anyone what is going on. You are waiting to get off the bus and getting antsy, the bus driver starts to tell you to sit and wait. Kids start to get off the bus and you try to push your way through, because remember you drank two gatorades roughly 45 minutes ago now. Kids start yelling at you and the bus driver tells you to go to the back of the line. You can’t wait! You push your way past the kids and try to run into the school to the bathroom. A teacher stops you and you try to get past them.” You end by telling them that we may not always know what a student is thinking and why they are behaving in a certain way. They can’t express it the same way we can. It is important to give these students time to process and express their thoughts. Also, if a student is running down the hall maybe they have to got to the bathroom 😉 Ok, probably not.
So what can you do to shine a light on this part of our profession with staff? Here are a few fun ways:
- Print out a few AAC images, maybe 8 with a mix of core vocab and actions. Post them on a board in your break room. Challenge staff to create different messages using these images. Afterwards ask them what they thought about using them to share their thoughts. Was it easy or hard?
- Have a little contest about some AAC terms, like ” What does AAC stand for? What is core vocabulary? What is fringe vocabulary?” The winner can get a little certificate and some bragging rights.
- Host a short time to come in before or after school to see what AAC really is. If you have access to some programs you can share those, otherwise printing off some low tech boards can be just as useful. If you are going the low tech route, play a little AAC BINGO. If everyone has slightly different boards it should make for an interesting time 😉
Keeping education light and simple is the way to go, at least in the beginning.
STEP TWO: ASK
A big reason that many staff members don’t pay attention to AAC talks is because they feel it doesn’t apply to them or their class, or they don’t know what they can do in their setting. Ask how they would like you help 🙂
Example: A student does ‘library time’ once a week with an aide and doesn’t usually need to interact with the librarian, so of course she doesn’t feel she needs any AAC info or supports in her space. If there were a visual schedule for the student or even simple AAC image cards for her to exchange with the student, such as a greeting, it can create a different, and positive, environment for both student at staff. Even if the student is using a high tech device, offering low tech solutions such as a few choice AAC images can be great because many people simply do not feel comfortable using a student’s device. So, ask the librarian or other support staff what you can do to help them connect with the student and offer a few ideas.
Ask if anyone wants some instruction. Offer to show people who interact with the student most frequently some easy ways to model. Majority of the time they feel uneasy because they don’t know where certain buttons are and are hesitant to show the student the wrong thing; or they are overwhelmed because they feel they need to model every single word they are planning to say. I try to explain that the student is still learning their device too and seeing them work through and narrate their navigation is helpful. Also, they do not have to model every word! Stick to the key words that form the message to start.
I have been using these Core Vocabulary ( AAC ) Door Hangers with my classrooms that have students using AAC. They have one of twenty core vocab words on with a 2-4 ideas that anyone: admin, the custodian, substitutes, can do to help provide examples of the word in context. So far they have been a hit! The staff really like them because they have a target and some ideas ready to go. It takes pressure off of them. I change them out every 1-2 weeks.
*TIP: If you use the door hangers get yourself a large, scrap booking circle hole punch. A 2 inch or 3 inch will do the trick and OMG the time it saves!!! I don’t know about you but cutting out inner circles is a nightmare for me.
If the student pushes into a classroom, ask if you can read a book to the class and talk with them about their friend who uses a different way to communicate. Something to Say books has an amazing serious that features characters will different communication needs. One is about a girl who uses a communication device.
If there are classroom students who work well your student using AAC, trying pushing in for some time with them. Show them how to do simple things with your students device like saying ‘hi’, if the student is open to other’s using it. If not offer some laminate core word pages and show the students how they can use them.
That’s it, two easy steps and you can start to include the more than just the student’s teacher in their communication and school experience. Yes, it will take some work but it truly is worth it. If doing all of that is overwhelming or not possible because of your schedule, just pick one small thing and start there. Maybe using the door hangers and spending an extra 5 minutes telling the classroom staff how they work or printing something for the teacher’s lounge. It really can go a long way.
If you have done something that really resinated with your classroom or school please share it in the comments. You can never have too many ideas!