Last week it was career day at our local elementary school and my kids begged me to come. They are still young enough that they think their mom is cool (I'll be sad when that phase ends).
I work for CoughDrop (obviously) so I planned to talk about what augmentative communication is and how I use STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in my everyday job because that is the focus the school asked for.
While I was putting things together, I suddenly remembered some research I had read the week before about peer learning and participation in AAC interventions.
The article noted several studies which sought to gauge the effect of peer training for children interacting with a class member who used AAC. Three specific studies were noted in the research and unequivocally the results showed increased frequency and quality of interactions with an AAC communicator following even simple peer training about augmentative communication.
And I thought, I can do that.
I can take a couple minutes in my presentation about what I do with AAC every day to help these children understand how they might better interact with a person who uses augmentative communication.
The research I read noted that impactful peer training lessons simply included encouraging children to do four simple things: make eye contact, ask questions, give time for a response, and respond to initiations when interacting with an AAC user.
So that's what I decided to share. I worked those thoughts into my presentation then I schlepped off to the elementary school to talk to some kiddos.
The morning of the presentation, we started with a game where I asked a child to share a simple message without speaking (will you sit with me at lunch, can you play after school, will you help me with my homework, etc). Of course, it was hard to relay these messages without using spoken words. I asked the children to imagine how difficult it would be to share their thoughts and feelings or needs and wants if they could not speak.
Then I introduced AAC. I let some children share simple messages using my device and even had a couple kids crack a joke from my jokes speech board.
I tried to help the kids see that this is a way to improve communication for those who cannot speak for whatever reason.
Sure, I talked about the importance of technology in a program like this, the engineering behind it, and the way I use math to observe trends, manage statistics, and see what's working and what isn't.
But then I asked the kids if they could see any ways it might be harder to communicate using AAC than using regular speech.
And guess what. They brought up every single one of those points outlined in the research I had read. We briefly discussed each of them and how we might help someone using AAC have what they needed when we were communicating with them. We talked about how we might help them feel included and wanted just by being patient and kind when getting to know them.
I got to talk to four classrooms of students for about 20 minutes each, and the time just flew by.
Now, I have no delusions that this one, short presentation will have drastically altered the lives of the children that I spoke to.
But maybe, just maybe, it might have opened their eyes a tiny bit and helped them think of something they hadn't considered before.
Maybe they will view AAC as a "normal" way to speak rather than an oddity.
Maybe they'll be a bit more patient and give someone who struggles to communicate a few moments longer to respond.
Maybe if they see someone using AAC they'll say to their friend, "Hey, I know what that is. Let me tell you about it."
Maybe they'll pause, look a person in the eyes, and say "hi" instead of pretending not to see them or looking the other way.
Maybe they'll be a tiny bit more tolerant, a tiny bit more understanding, a tiny bit more kind as they meet new and different people in the world.
It really was just one small thing, but maybe with enough small things together we could start to change the world.