I want to talk about an area of difficulty many of us experience in the schools when working with students with complex communication needs. Often we put in the time and effort to implement a communication book, core board, or other high tech AAC device only to experience abandonment of these tools at the classroom level. This can be frustrating, to say the least. So, how can we get teachers and staff members to buy-in to the idea of Augmented & Alternative Communication in order to help our students succeed? Well, it takes a little extra time and a lot of collaboration.
Teach the teacher Set aside time to train the teacher. Sometimes it is easy for us as SLPs to see an AAC device as intuitive without considering that to a teacher or aid, this may not be the case at all. Try not to drop the student off with a new device one day, sight unseen to the teacher and expect them to just roll with it. Sit with the teacher and those working directly with the student and model for them how you expect the device to be used.
Give it time If a teacher is able to jump in and use the device with the student all day from the very beginning, great! If not, try to start small and work your way up. The first week, have the teacher use the device during a specific time, such as morning circle. Try to be there during this time to support the teacher and model the use of the device. The next week, add in several more blocks of time. This will help the teacher and the student feel more confident with the huge change in their schedule.
Unexpected use Explain what to do when a student is using the device in an “unexpected” way. For example, I have had students who will press one button over and over when they get a new device or who ask for a desired item, such a cookies repeatedly instead of participating productively in classroom discussion. The teachers have taken the device and put it out of reach to solve the problem. Explain to the teacher that this is like turning off a student’s voice and is unethical. Tell them they should treat the student like any other talking out of turn, by telling them “It’s not time to talk about cookies, right now it is math centers.” They should redirect the behavior as they would with any student.
Push in when possible The more time you are able to spend working with the child in the classroom setting, the more modeling you are doing both for the student and the teacher. Buy in is best when there is a shared understanding of the goals and usefulness of the device.
Do you have any advice to share about helping educators value AAC? Share it in the comments below or send us an email!
Speech, Teach, & Love,
Ana & Lacy