A new year marks the start of many new adventures. There are so many opportunities just waiting to be had.
In AAC, as in any arena, a new year means new chances to set goals, improve skills, advance progress, and build confidence as well as communication.
But where to start. There are just so many pieces to this communication puzzle, how do you tackle them all?
Well, the simple answer is, you don't. A new year is a great time to give yourself permission NOT to tackle EVERY possible option, but instead focus in on one or two goals that will most benefit an AAC user you love.
You could probably create a long list of wonderful outcomes you'd like to see when it comes to AAC communication. But what steps are you going to take to get there?
We'd like to share 15 great AAC goals that can help you make amazing progress toward communication success. DO NOT try to tackle all 15 – instead pick one or two that best apply to your circumstances and then track your development for the next several weeks.
It's always a good idea to set S.M.A.R.T. goals and keep track of your successes and frustrations as you move forward (more about setting SMART goals here). Print an AAC focused goals sheet to help you get started here (for free).
With a tiny touch of planning and healthy helping of focus and effort, we're pretty sure you will see miracles happen in building AAC communication.
Achievable (but powerful) Goals for AAC Supporters
- Remember your 'why'...and refer to it often
While "getting a student to use their communication device" is a nice idea, is that really the "why" behind the work you are doing to build speech? We sure hope not. After all, speech for speech's sake doesn't seem especially important – and your communicator can probably feel that too.
When you come at communication from an angle of why, you start to broaden your perspective and remember the reason that this is worth the effort. Whether it's to help a person express who they are or to help a person be able to build relationships through even simple interactions, there is much more to speech than just voicing some words.
Whatever your specific 'why' be sure to write it down and place it somewhere that you can see it so it can help keep you on track in the difficult moments (which will surely come).
- Post Communication Boards EVERYWHERE!!
Don't get completely distracted by a fancy, electronic AAC system – these options are AMAZING (seriously, they are so great), but a poster sized core communication board on the wall or door (or tucked into the front of a folder) can be a great communication booster. Let ANYONE use the board to communicate ideas, feelings, or suggestions and support vocabulary learning for all by using the board yourself regularly.
- Set a progressing modeling goal
We cannot tout the importance of modeling words using AAC for AAC users nearly enough. When you want someone to learn to speak French, you need to model speaking French so they can learn. The same is true for AAC. Speak AAC so your communicator can learn AAC.
Don't be ashamed to start small. Maybe your goal is to model just 5 words a day. Track it. Use an app on your phone (maybe one like this) or a simple tally mark on a post it note.
Then, once you master that goal, stretch it a bit and grow from there. Every bit you do is a win.
- Find out a favorite
Maybe set a goal to find out some of your student's favorites. Sure, you could ask his parents, and do that if you like. But you could also try to find one new favorite every week or month. Imagine the motivation core communication you could create if you build your opportunities around your communicator's preferred subjects. These are some favorites you might try to explore.
- Clarify, don't assume
Yes, you know your communicator pretty well (or, hopefully, you will very soon). But that doesn't mean you know exactly what is going on in his or her head at all times. When your communicator shares a thought, word, or idea set a goal to clarify what they mean rather than assuming you know just what they are trying to communicate.
If he says "bus" don't just assume he wants to go home. Ask, "Hmmm, but, did you have a good ride on the bus today? Did you see something interesting on the bus? Are you excited to go home later?"
When she says "eat" don't just assume she wants her favorite crackers every time. Maybe try, "I'm hungry too, do you think it's almost lunch time?" or "Wouldn't it be funny to try to eat an elephant?" or even "It sounds like you are ready to eat. Would you rather eat crackers or pudding?"
Set a goal to expand and clarify rather than taking assumed intentions for granted.
- Give time for a response...then give some more
Silence is golden – or so they say. But when you are waiting for a communicator to respond to a question or prompt that silence sometimes seems to stretch on forever.
Don't give in to the temptation to fill every quiet moment. Allow an expectant pause to become a preferred tool in your communication arsenal.
Count to 10 by alligators in your mind (one alligator, two alligator...) and then count to 5 to give a bit more time. 15 seconds is NOT actually an eternity (although it might feel like it, especially at first). If you jump in every time, you may teach your communicator that filling the silence is more important to you than his or her response. Let's not get ridiculous (please avoid any "I'm not saying another word until you say something!!!" type situations) but let's set a goal to give a little more time than may be comfortable for us before we let our own tongues take the lead.
- Aim to use AAC in non-traditional settings
Try not to get stuck in the trap of ONLY using AAC when you are at the therapy table. Communication takes place EVERYWHERE and that means that AAC use needs to take place EVERYWHERE. Set a goal to have specific AAC interactions in non-traditional settings. This could be using a speech board in the library, modeling a word or two in the lunch room, selecting words while in line for the bus or on the playground. Show everyone that AAC is a valid form of communication in any setting.
- Give your learner the chance to take the lead
Sometimes making choices can be a great motivation for communication. Letting your communicator take the lead in a therapy or language session can be a great way to encourage growth (although it is NOT the right fit for every communication, be sensitive to your own AAC user).
Set a goal to come to a session with an open mind and with opportunities for your communicator to take the lead. Let them choose the games, fill in the blanks in a story, decide what to do first and then what next (like this board), where to hold a session, pick the dance move you do if they complete their work – get creative and give your communicator the chance to be the boss every now and then.
- Help others learn to speak TO not around your communicator
While goals relating to communication growth for your communicator are essential, sometimes goals relating to others who interact with your communicator can be just as important. Set the example of how to address your communicator.
If someone tries to ask you what your communicator wants or how she feels, redirect them in a simple, polite learning opportunity, "We can ask Susan and see, what do you think, Susan?" or "I think she is feeling better today, is that right Susan?" No need to be rude, but simple corrections can help to change the tone of interactions surrounding a communicator and empower them as an individual.
- Admit when you're wrong
You are going to mess stuff up. Some activities will be a flop. Sometimes you won't be able to locate the word you want to model. It's going to happen. And when it does, own it. Imagine how much it might matter to allow a communicator to see you make a mistake and keep going. "Geez, I really screwed that up, didn't I. Wow, we'll have to try that again." Set a goal to acknowledge it when your flaws show up and let your AAC user know that that is perfectly normaly and perfectly acceptable. If you can mess up, so can they – that's kind of a great thing.
- Honor EVERY communication (yes, ALL of them)
No matter how errant or ridiculous it may seem, honor every single AAC communication. Every one. All of them. Yes, all of them.
Even if you just say, "I'm not sure what you mean by that," or "I heard you say 'truck'" the fact that you acknowledge the communication gives your communicator permission and encouragement to continue to communicate.
Build on them when possible ("Hmmm, 'bee,' I'm not sure what you mean by that. Did you see a bee today?") but always acknowledge communications.
In addition, try not to fall into the trap of forcing communication with the AAC device above all else. If a communicator has clearly expressed their answer with a nod, a hand movement, or in another way it may not be the best idea to ignore that expression in order to get them to use AAC instead. You might say, "Oh, here's how you could say that with your talker," but let's remember there are many valid forms of communication – and AAC is definitely one of them.
- Do more asking -- do less telling
Set a goal to ask a number of questions each time you meet with a communicator. Try "can you find the button for 'see' on your device" rather than 'let me show you the 'see' button on your device." Ask "what do you have to say about books" not just "we're going to read this book." Open the door to expanded communication, even just a few moments at a time, can make a big difference.
- Accept communications and then expand
We already talked about honoring every communication, no matter how small – now set a goal to build on every communication. If a student generally speaks one word at a time, model two words to help encourage growth (if student says "eat" you could model "eat lunch" or "eat more"). If they speak two words then model three or four. Add a descriptor, connect a time frame, talk about location. There are so many things you can do. Set a goal to expand on communications to develop language skills.
- Communication is serious business – be sure to have fun doing it
Set a goal to do something that makes your communicator smile every time you are together. Maybe that includes playing a game to model turn taking or allow selecting colors, or maybe that means throwing in a surprise like a whoopie cushion, a stuffed animal, or a clown nose. Keeping communication enjoyable makes it more likely that your communicator will want to be part of it. After all, smiling is a great form of communication.
- Remember the purpose of communication – connections
When we really get to the heart of it, communication is about creating connections. Whatever else you do, we hope you'll set a goal to put connection first, even if it means letting go of some of the communications. (Get some insights from Lauren Enders' presentation: Connections – the Heart of Communication)