By VALERIE CARBALLO, SLP
Fall is here and that means back to school, apple cider, and pumpkin patches. The change the fall brings also brings a plethora of new vocabulary and communication opportunities for our kids. One way to improve communication during these opportunities is by increasing the use of AAC.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is an important tool that helps all of us communicate more effectively. We use these tools to communicate our thoughts and ideas to others and sometimes even ourselves. Helping our kids learn how to use these same tools to help them communicate is necessary no matter what their communication level.
So what constitutes AAC? AAC is any kind of communication that is used without talking. When you send a text to a friend, that’s using AAC! When you write yourself a grocery list, that’s using AAC! When you smile and wave at a neighbor, that’s using AAC! AAC can be anything from a facial expression or gesture to a speech-generating device. These tools help us and our children to communicate more effectively.
So how can we use AAC to help our kids communicate more effectively? Below are some tips on how to incorporate different kinds of AAC during your every day and fall activities.
We all use gestures to communicate with others. We wave, point, and give thumbs up to communicate messages to others with or without the use of words. Baby signs are also considered AAC when the signs are used to assist or replace oral communication. We can help our kids learn to communicate more effectively by exaggerating our use of gestures and using gestures more often.
TIP: Learn a few simple signs for fall-related vocabulary to help with communicating about new activities. Here are a few signs from www.babysignlanguage.com to try to incorporate into your activities with your kids!
Seeing a picture or a sign or symbol can also give us information. Kids can recognize that a red octagon usually means “STOP” even if they could not read the letters. They also can easily recognize the signs or symbols for their favorite stores or restaurants. A study in 2014 showed that babies as young as 9 months can recognize objects in pictures. Using pictures can be an effective way for kids to learn to understand simple directions or routines or to even communicate their wants and needs.
TIP: Set up a picture schedule to help your kids to learn the steps to getting ready in the morning. You can even put a picture on a calendar to represent special activities like a trip to the pumpkin patch, or a Harvest Party can help kids to understand changes in routines. You can use picture drawings, or even real pictures if that is easier for your child to understand!
Other forms of AAC can include body language, written words, and even speech-generating devices for some communicators. Body language for kids usually looks like moving toward something or moving away from it. Body language can also be facial expressions or a sudden meltdown.
TIP: Notice your child’s body language during a new activity such as a trip to the apple orchard. Comment on what they are moving towards or looking at. Acknowledge their feelings when it is apparent to you. “You are so happy you found that pumpkin!” or “You are so sad that you spilled your cider!”
Written words can include communication such as a note, email, or text. If kids can’t read yet, help them to understand some written words by pairing them with a picture.
TIP: Show your child grandma’s photo by “Grandma” on your phone or words by each picture in a schedule (as shown above). Help them recognize familiar letters (such as the first letter in their name) as you see them. “O is for Owen and Orchard!”
Kids with speech-generating devices need to have access to their devices as much as possible. If you are unsure how to edit your child’s device, check in with their SLP or their teacher to help you make a page for some new vocabulary related to some fall activities you will be engaging in.
TIP: Use familiar and novel single words and some preset phrases on a special page related to your fall activities. These can include phrases such as “Happy Halloween!”, “This is fun!”, or even, “I don’t like this.” Having access to activity-specific words and phrases can be more motivating to kids who have difficulty using their devices for more than requests and structured tasks.
AAC can be helpful if you use it consistently. Incorporating some of these strategies into your fall activities can give your child more opportunities to communicate in ways that take the pressure off talking. Using AAC can make communication easier for you and your child, but don’t forget to also make it fun!