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Teaching a Child How to Use their Communication Device

A variety of AAC devices.

Recently, Jennifer McDonald Peltier, ATP at the Center for Accessible Technology, presented a webinar on how to best teach a communication device to a child so it becomes their voice in all situations. We need to do the same thing for children/students using communication devices. I'd like to share some of the highlights of this webinar. You can also take a look at the archived recording to learn more. 

Communication devices (click here for examples) are best taught in the same way that children learn spoken language - there are specific instruction times (Can you say Mama?) and then there is Immersion - hearing language all the time. From the day a child is born we talk to them and encourage them to repeat words. By 18 months old, babies have heard 4,380 hours of spoken language.

If you want a child to speak using an AAC or Aided Language System, then we need to speak to them using that same system. When you want to encourage a child to use their device, you must use their device (with permission of course) and model your words, sentences, questions and thoughts. Teach them by direct modeling how to find the words you are saying. Many AAC devices use symbolic language - a picture represents a word. It is important to provide the child many opportunities, in a variety of situations, to learn what the symbol means.

What language modeling is NOT.

  1. Language modeling is not requiring a correct response. Instead, it is having a free form dialog with your child/student using their device. It is talking about things in the environment. It is reading a book and finding symbols/words on the device that reflect repetitive phrases from the book or lend themselves to a discussion about the book. It is making a mistake and then finding the correct word.
  2. Language modeling is not modeling every word you say. It's showing how to build sentences with key words. And it's modeling that the function of the word is what's important even if the form of the word isn't on the device. For example, you want to say Me or Go or See. If they aren't available you use I , Want, Look instead.
  3. Language modeling is not strategizing in silence. It is showing and telling the AAC user how to problem solve where on the board to find a word or phrase. "I want to say 'dog'. Mmmm, it's not on my home page. Where might it be? Maybe on my Pets page or my Favorite Things page."

The Mechanics of Modeling

  1. You can use the student's/child's device, if they say it's okay.
  2. If your student/child is using a communication app and they don't want anyone to touch their device you can, sometimes find the app available to download free onto your mobile.
  3. You can make a low tech board using the same layout and symbols on the device. Or, take a screenshot of the device and print. Or, search the web for premade low tech boards specific to the device your student/child is using. Resources: Year of Core and Core Classroom and don't forget to watch the Archive of the full Webinar.