In honor of AAC Awareness Month, we are celebrating all of our wonderful clients who utilize AAC to communicate. Since we have so many children and young adults at our offices who use AAC devices, we are also working with our clients who do not use AAC to teach understanding, respect, and tips for interacting with an AAC user! AAC devices are often intriguing to other children, and you or your child might have questions.
Below we have some important tips and strategies from one of our SLPs, Amy Bereiter, and LJ, a client from our clinic who uses AAC. But first, LJ wants to introduce himself in his own words:
“My name is LJ. I’m 10 years old. I have Cerebral Palsy. I cannot walk or speak but my power wheelchair helps me to get around and my Accent 1000 helps me talk to people. My favorite thing to do is cook. My favorite show to watch is Chopped. I like going to Utah to ski at the National Ability Center. With my communication device, I can talk and say jokes. I like telling jokes because they are funny and so am I. It allows me to do my homework and tell stories about my trips. If I didn’t have my communication device, I wouldn’t be able to talk. If I can’t use my device, I feel frustrated because it is hard to talk and people might not understand me. When people are new to using their device, it can be hard. Speech therapists helped me to learn it when I was five years old and I have worked hard to learn it. “
Here are some pointers to help you and your child be a good communication partner to an AAC user:
The AAC device IS their voice!
-Respond to any communication as if the AAC user had said it using their natural voice. Keep your responses natural and conversational, just as you would with anyone else. In addition, respond to all attempts at communication (gestures, pointing, sign language, speech, AAC device, etc.).
Never touch the device without asking.
-Curious kiddos might want to touch the communication device/app because technology is cool and interesting! However, it is their voice and it is important that the AAC user maintains access and control of his/her communication. Redirect your child, but be careful not to break the interaction.
-Sometimes it can take a few seconds for an AAC user to produce a message. Encourage your child to be patient, wait, and avoid interruptions. Sometimes, an AAC user might need time to process and motor plan what they are going to say. Other times, they might want to take the conversation in a different direction.
A note from LJ: “Let them have time to say what they want to say” and “Don’t rush the AAC user.”
Speak directly to the AAC user.
-If you have questions or comments, speak directly to the AAC user and not to the adults that are accompanying him/her.
-Another tip from LJ: “Talk to me, not the person with me.”
Avoid directing the AAC user.
-Even though the icons are right there, avoid pointing to pictures or telling a child to “touch _____”. An AAC device is not a toy or a test, it is an alternative mode of communication.
LJ says: “You should let the person say what they want to say.”
Don’t assume an AAC user does not understand what you’re saying because they don’t use speech.
-Not using speech or not being able to speak, does not mean a person doesn’t understand. It also does not mean they don’t have a lot to say. Be respectful.
LJ says “Talk to the AAC user like how old the person is.”
Don’t JUST ask questions!
-AAC users don’t like to be quizzed anymore than the next kiddo! Remember to be natural and make comments, share stories, ask open-ended questions, etc.
It is OK to ask questions about the AAC device!
-Many AAC users are working on explaining their device and advocating for themselves. If your child has questions about someone else’s communication system, help them ask the AAC user directly in a friendly way.
Encourage your child to be accepting and respectful by openly talking about differences and seeking out information. We all have things that help us complete our day and our activities to the best of our abilities. Some people wear glasses, some people have hearing aids, some use wheelchairs, and some use AAC devices! Help kids find common ground! For example, talk about shared interests, age, siblings, pets, etc. If you have questions about AAC or about how to be a great communication partner, we are here to help.
-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP