by Kandi Henriott
Special education teachers and assistants play a critical role in the development of communication in the classroom. This is especially true for students using an augmentative-alternative communication system (AAC). Knowing how to effectively use AAC can be difficult for those unfamiliar with it. Teachers often rely on their Speech-Language-Pathologist, but his/her time is limited due to other responsibilities and that limits the time available to conduct training. As a result, the AAC process can be frustrating, overwhelming, and result with the system stored in a box somewhere.
If you currently have students with AAC needs in your classroom, it can be a truly rewarding experience to watch a low-verbal or nonverbal child finally use their first word or phrase. Here are three key ideas you should keep in mind when building your AAC classroom.
Communication is a Right
We all need to remember that a communication system should never be seen as an option or only useable in certain activities. Students have a human right to have their communication system, verbal or nonverbal, with them at all times. This may not be easy, so get creative. Use clipboards, 3-ring binders, or laminated card stock with a ring on it to attach to clothing. Regardless of what you use, make sure they have it wherever they go in school.
Communication is more than Requesting
Too often in the classroom, students are only using their AAC system for “work” within a structured activity. This includes making choices in games or snack time, toy and computer request, or within the speech therapy time. But communication is so much more than requesting and performing. It is what connects us to others for love, affection, friendship, and learning. Make sure your students’ systems are being used to socialize, to express feelings, and to interact with teachers across the school setting.
Communication has to be Modeled
If children are to gain proficiency in using their AAC systems, others must begin to use the system to communicate with them. Just like adults do with typically developing infants, we model how to label, comment, express feelings, request, and socialize every moment of the day. It’s critical for teachers to model the use of the AAC system including the “hunt and peck” nature of trying to find the right picture, thinking out loud, how pictures relate to the oral words they hear.
Using AAC systems to teach language and social communication skills with low to nonverbal students can be a rewarding experience when it’s done right. By following these 3 key ideas for AAC use in the classroom, you ensure your students have the chance to communicate for not only learning, but socially as well.