Effective AAC implementation requires a collaborative transdisciplinary approach. While an SLP or ATP may be seen as the “expert” on AAC, they are not the only individuals who are responsible for implementing AAC with individuals who have complex communication needs (CCN). According to Jane Korsten, M.S., CCC-SLP (2011), an individual with CCN who receives thirty minutes of speech therapy twice a week will receive 4,380 hours of language exposure over 84 years, while typically developing children receive the same amount of language exposure in their first eighteen months of life. Therefore, all members of the AAC team must play an active role in the implementation of AAC to maximize language development in those with CCN.
It is a common misconception that AAC implementation efforts need to be preplanned and revolve around extravagant activities. This is a reason why AAC commonly is abandoned. Families, especially families with a child who has CCN along with other comorbidities, have limited time available to allocate to AAC implementation and limited energy to attempt to engage their child in learning activities. Rather than spending unnecessary time and energy planning activities that are explicitly designed to target a specific therapeutic goal, or one or more of the five areas of competence for AAC proficiency (operational competence, linguistic competence, functional/social competence, emotional competence, and strategic competence), AAC implementation, especially while at home and in the community, is best when it is spontaneous and infused into routine and engaging activities for the learner.
Don’t know where to start? We have you covered with a few implementation strategies and ideas!
- Integrate AAC into existing daily routines: There are a plethora of naturally occurring communication opportunities during daily activities. Slow down and take advantage of them.
Example: Meal times have rich opportunities for practicing commenting, requesting, and protesting.
- Incorporate AAC into high-interest activities: Activities that are of high interest and motivation to the learner are great communication opportunities. You may use “sabotage”’ during the activity to create opportunities for communication.
Examples: Play the learner’s favorite show or YouTube video and pause it every few minutes to comment about what's happening. Wait to press play until they initiate the request.
Play a Netflix series the learner likes. Once Netflix asks if you are still watching, wait until they initiate the request to continue watching.
- Use AAC to interact with innovative technology: Not only is it motivating, but voice-activated technology also teaches communication skills to those with complex communication needs as they receive immediate feedback from the technology immediately after initiating communication with it. You initially may need to model language if this is a new concept for the learner.
Example: Turn on a favorite song on Alexa or Google Home using AAC.
Most importantly, have fun, start small, and keep it simple! Communication opportunities naturally arise when the learner and communication partner(s) are having fun. Optimal learning occurs when the activity is fun, meaningful, and takes place in naturalistic settings.