Let’s face it, there is a lot to learn when it comes to the use of augmentative communication.
There are language skills to develop, muscle memory to master, grammar and word usage to learn, not to mention just the art of controlling an electronic device.
It’s a good thing there are so many professionals available to help. From teachers and therapists to assistive technology specialists and AAC program developers, the team surrounding an AAC user is pretty incredible.
But that team means very little without the support and encouragement of the family.
Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, even grandparents -- family is the constant in the communicator’s life. Therapists, teachers, administrators, professionals -- they all may change over time, but family is consistently involved with the AAC user.
Every day. Even holidays. Even during the summer. Even on vacation. Even on nights and weekends. Family is there playing a vital role in helping to make communication happen.
Families can do things that therapists and teachers just can’t do.
Siblings can laugh with the AAC user at odd words they find on speech boards or strange pronunciation of words. They can learn the layout of buttons to help a learner find what they need or can even program in favorite family phrases so that everyone can be part. Brothers and sisters can take the lead and set the example when other children are around to help people see that talking with a device is still talking.
Parents can incorporate choices into the daily routine like what to wear, what to eat, or what books should we get at the library to give AAC users ample opportunities to use language. They better understand the communicator’s needs to know when it’s time to push harder and when it’s time for a break. They can focus on the unique needs of the AAC user, or help them go with the flow of everyday life without being the center of attention.
More than anything else, families get the opportunity every single day in many different settings to talk to the communicator and allow that person the chance to talk back to them. They get to model communication skills to friends or classmates so that step by step, everyone begins to learn that AAC isn’t weird -- it’s just another way to express yourself.
Augmentative communication is powerful. It opens doors and unlocks voices that might not otherwise be heard. But it takes a supportive team to help a person reach those lofty goals, and at the heart of that team lies the family.
In all the rumble of core vocabulary and modeling and all the other great ideas and resources, let's not forget that the best tool any AAC user really has lives within the walls of his own home.