Double Down: AAC Advice from Two Voices of Experience

Oct 15, 2019

Sometimes the world of AAC can seem a bit overwhelming -- especially to those just starting out who aren't sure of the necessities, the nuances, and the next steps when supporting an AAC communicator.

One great solution when you aren't sure what to do is to talk to an expert -- someone who has been there, someone who gets it, someone you can trust.

We've had the chance to get to know MANY AAC experts since CoughDrop came on the scene. One person we've come to greatly respect is an amazing AAC parent named Karen Skarda who is the mother of two AAC users.

Karen plunged into the world of AAC without a lot of outside support and learned to navigate communication systems, insurance, and more as she worked to advocate for her children. Karen has become a quiet and humble expert on AAC.

When we asked her what advice she would give to those just entering the realm of augmentative communication, she put together some tips that are a great fit for anyone starting out with AAC:


Karen's Top Tips for AAC

  • Go with as big a core board as you can handle. Your kids will grow into it and it's better to keep buttons in their place from the start than to regularly rearrange buttons to add more vocabulary.

  • If the school district you're attending or going to attend has a static core board or a preferred device or symbolset - choose that. It keeps things consistent between home and school.

  • "Core" vocabulary is just a shortcut because AAC is so stinking slow! Get some basic information about Core Vocabulary here.

  • AAC (high-tech or low-tech) is REALLY slow, so it's going to take WAY longer than you think for your kids to pick it up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flFNMky22-U

  • Keep it fun. You don't want them to see the AAC device as the device people use to control (aka tell them what they need to do)! Language learning can be FUN!

  • Acknowledge any communication attempt. So, if they point - don't make them use the AAC device also. You want to keep the kid buying into this idea, not frustrate them.

  • If your kid isn't paying attention to core, don't be afraid to use nouns/verbs. Just don't get stuck on "fringe" words - especially when modeling.

  • Build out your fringe vocabulary - but don't feel like you need to take a picture for everything. There's a reason we have a robust vocabulary and symbolset in your device

  • If you're not modeling as much as you'd like - just remember it's the technology not you. Just keep on trying. It all helps! Some insights on modeling here.

  • Depending on your child, more nouns might help with buy-in. My kids are autistic and unless they see some meaningful nouns/verbs in a sentence they tend to ignore what I'm saying as gibberish.

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Not only did Karen share her insights, but she reached out to their family speech therapist, Emily Fintak at Primary Children's Rehab TOSH, and asked for additional insights.

Here are her ideas:

  • Be prepared to fight for communication. Often the first 6 months go great. Then 6-12 months later families are frustrated because its a lot of work (and it really can be). Don't quit!!!

  • Maintaining vocabulary on a device, getting all communication partners on board and implementing across all environments can feel exhausting. But this is a whole new language, it takes time -- give yourself a break and celebrate even small successes.

  • You have to keep it fun. You have to keep it the coolest thing in the world. If you "dread" using AAC so will your communicator.

  • If the child has been requesting a certain way - honor that request and model. Don't expect them to transition overnight.

  • Everyone always forgets how important modeling is. Can't emphasize enough. The need for modeling doesn't go away when a child starts to use AAC more successfully or consistently. The need for modeling will NEVER go away. Speak their language!! A few more insights on modeling here.

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Learning to speak using AAC is learning a whole new way to communicate -- a whole new language. There is a lot to learn, but you don't have to do it alone. Take it from those who have been there already, learning to use AAC can take some work -- but it is worth it!

Melissa DeMoux

CoughDrop Marketing and Customer Care: I've been supporting AAC communicators and supporters for several years and I love it!