Let’s live and breathe AAC
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Let’s live and breathe AAC

We all have the right and want to express thoughts, feelings, and needs. For non-speaking or minimally speaking children, finding an avenue to communicate effectively can be a challenging journey. Parents are often at a loss as to where to start. Sometimes a little bit of Makaton signing has been used here and there but we mostly find that gradually signing fades as parents feel that it just doesn’t seem to get copied and used by the children.

They live and breathe their system

This is where we need to pick up the pieces and start again: because all successful families where children start using their boards or their electronic AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) systems do this one thing: THEY LIVE AND BREATHE THEIR SYSTEM.

  • They have boards in every single room of the house;
  • They have a board in the car, attached to the side of car door so their child can point to it as they need to;
  • They have a smaller board in their handbag/rucksack when out and about;
  • They have a board for shopping and attach it to the shopping trolley;
  • They are never ever without their board.

Because they realise that a child should never be without their mouths to speak, should never be without a means to speak. They use their own board to model and the child has always access to their board to model back or to just look.

This is where success begins

Success begins at consistent and joyful use of the board/AAC system throughout the entire day. If we think about it, doesn’t it make sense? Of course, it does! We talk to our child for the first two years of their life continuously wherever we are and our child is continuously encouraged to use their mouths for talking in all situations.

Same goes for Signing: Makaton or any other sign system is a very powerful means to aid communication and I certainly advocate and use it in practice. Though much like words, signs are very elusive and temporary—as soon as the sign has been made it is gone and no longer present. Same with words of course. This can be difficult for people who need longer to process information.

The beauty of symbols or photographs is that they are permanent: they don’t vanish, they stay and with the core board they stay in the same place! This is very reassuring. We can learn where a symbol is and we can be assured that it will still be there the next time we look at the board.

AAC core board

Here is a picture of a core board:

AAC board

You can download this and other boards for free on the Saltillo Word Power website.

It has 48 cells and we can see the most frequently used core words on here, words that we use 80% of the day when talking with our non-speaking/minimally speaking children, younger children and children with cognitive delay. We keep our sentences short and we say phrases pertaining to their daily lives;

  • Let’s GET your toy
  • PUT it here, PUT it away, PUT it IN
  • Let’s READ a book
  • UP you get
  • WANT some MORE?
  • That’s GOOD isn’t it?
  • Let’s OPEN the box and LOOK

And so on… All these phrases can be aided with the above board. Your child will learn OVER TIME and OVER CONTINUOUS USE where GET/PUT/MORE/WANT/IN—where these symbols are. For children who are slow to process this is so helpful, to have a visual representation of what has just been said. It aids understanding in the first place. Gradually as a child starts to copy they will point to powerful symbols themselves and if they want to speak they can also speak of course:

A child might point to WANT + MORE and then say with their mouths: BANANA!

Board examples

Here are some other boards I have made specifically for daily situations and preferences of some of my students. Here is one for toileting:

AAC toileting board

And another one:

These boards incorporate high-frequency and versatile words, enabling us to make little sentences.

Building Language and Literacy Skills

AAC Core Boards are not just tools for immediate communication. They also play a pivotal role in language and literacy development. By using these boards, non-speaking children engage with words and symbols, reinforcing their understanding of language structure and grammar.

Over time they naturally absorb language patterns, laying the foundation for improved literacy skills.

Customisation for Individual Needs

Every non-speaking child is unique, and their communication needs can vary significantly. AAC Core Boards are designed with this diversity in mind. The boards can be adapted to include specific vocabulary relevant to the child’s daily life, interests, and activities. This personalisation ensures that the AAC Core Board is a true reflection of the child’s personality and needs, making communication more engaging and effective.

Collaboration between AAC Core Boards and Speech Therapy

While AAC Core Boards are an incredible tool, they are only used effectively by the non-speaking child when the board is used BY ALL COMMUNICATION PARTNERS around the child.

Again, I know I am being repetitive here, but the board needs to be used and modelled by the adults constantly in the first place and for a period of time before we can expect our children to take an interest and use the boards themselves. Think how long it typically takes for a child to learn their first word: around a year! During that time the adults talk constantly to their child without hesitation or expectation! The same goes for introducing this new way of communicating.

Collaborating with your child’s speech-language therapist (SLT) ensures that your child receives the right guidance in using the AAC system. SLTs can assess your child’s communication abilities, recommend appropriate boards and provide guidance on how to best implement them.

Conclusion

For non-speaking children, AAC Core Boards are bridges to their world.

These boards foster language development, social interaction, and personal expression. AAC Core Boards offer a beacon of hope, helping non-speaking children break through communication barriers and thrive in a world that is waiting to hear their voices. Boards are simple for anyone to use and understand. Have a go! You will be surprised how lovely it is to use a board with ease and once your child sees you do this, you have a chance for your child to start copying you…and express something! HOW ABOUT THAT! I look forward to hearing your stories!

The London Speech and Feeding Practice


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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How to model AAC with our minimally speaking students?
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How to model AAC with our minimally speaking students?

modelling AAC

How should we start? Should we use prompts? What kind of prompts? hand-over-hand or just pointing? Should we wait, and, if so, how long? Introducing an alternative communication system (AAC) to our child is for many of us a confusing and sometimes scary prospect, but it needn’t be! Let me reassure you and share some tricks of my practice in this area.

Once we have decided to try for a picture based communication system, I usually start with a paper-based single page with between 48–88 core-words. I choose the number of words depending on where the child is developmentally and also verbally.

If a child does have a small handful of words already, I might start with the 88-cell board below. If, on the other hand, my student is completely non-speaking and still quite little then I might go for the 48-cell below here or I might have even less cells to start with. Again, sometimes I start with an electronic device in my clinic just to trial and introduce the idea and to see if, or how, a student responds. 

Below are some samples: a 49-cell board which I made for a child in a nursery setting

Below a Saltillo WordPower board that can be downloaded from the Saltillo website:

Example of a slightly more advanced board, again from the Saltillo Website

And here below one example of a board I made for a specific activity for a child who loves water and sand play:

It is perfectly possible to be very flexible and create a suitable board for any student, starting with as few as 2–5 cells and working up to over a 100 (very small ones) on a sheet of A4 or A3 paper.

So once we have a good board for our child, what now? How do we start introducing this into our daily life?

We can start by showing/pointing to the word GO within a play activity. For example:

  • a car run,
  • or a marble run,
  • or a spinner activity,
  • a wind-up toy,
  • anything that can be stopped and started easily.

How to start?

I will talk us through each of the steps using the example for the word ‘GO’.

First phase

The first phase is a TEACHING/ LEARNING PHASE. In this phase we do not expect our student to do anything, to copy us or to point to the board. If they do that it is of course a huge bonus and we will celebrate it.

Our job is to simply MODEL/SHOW/GIVE EXAMPLES of how we can use the board, by steadily and regularly pointing to the chosen word or words. We do so across the day and across settings:

  • play
  • meal time
  • getting dressed/undressed
  • bath time
  • going to the car/shops
  • etc

Once we can be sure that our student has been submerged and SOAKED in seeing the coreboard being used, say after some 3–4 weeks of using it consistently…

Second phase

We can begin to move into the second phase which is the PRACTICE PHASE. By now the student has seen the boards and he or she has seen the word GO (as a example) modelled many times.

Now we can start to see if we can tempt our student into trying this out for themselves.

What sort of TEMPTING are we talking about? Take a look at the Prompt Hierarchy below, which shows us what to do to get our student to be independently communicating as soon as possible. 

The PROMPT HIERARCHY: what sort of prompting should we do, should we expect something from our student or how should we view this stage?

  1.  TEMPT AND PAUSE

I have the AAC near to the toy and each time the child starts another round of the activity I say clearly ‘GO’ and I point to the picture as do so. I then pause and wait to see what happens. NOTHING? Then…

  1. USE SIGNS AND BODY LANGUAGE

Next time the child starts another round I might be very animated and do a Makaton sign for GO as I say ‘GO’ and I make a very over point to the picture again. Then I wait. STILL NOTHING? OK then…

  1. OPEN-ENDED QUESTION

Now I might say ‘GO’ and follow with: ‘OOH I WONDER IF THERE IS A PICTURE TO POINT TO…’

‘OH LOOK HERE IS GO!’ I then point to GO.

 STILL NO RESPONSE?

  1. ASK FOR A RESPONSE

I might say ‘GO’ followed by ‘LOOK! LET’S POINT TO GO HERE ON THE PICTURE.’

STILL NO RESPONSE? 

  1.  PHYSICAL TOUCH

Next time I say ‘GO’ I will try and take the student’s hand, help isolate their finger and help him or her to point to the actual picture.

REMEMBER: Prompting serves a very important function in scaffolding learning for students BUT if we are constantly prompting kids, then we are teaching them to only communicate when someone tells them to. We want our student to become as independent in speaking and using words as possible.

So once I have done Physical Prompting I will try and phase back down to number 1 where all I need to do is point to the picture or look at the board with the aim that the student will then point to the picture.

Take away points:

  • Keep the learning phase pressure-free and model without expecting our student to jump in. In other words, let’s model first without expectation. Later we can have a little bit of expectation.
  • After they’ve been exposed to and have been ‘soaked’ in plenty of AAC input, then, YES, we can create an opportunity to help them say or point to the word on their own.
  • We can model BOTH with and without expectation.
  • Only after LOTS of exposure, use the least to most prompting hierarchy and start creating opportunities for a student to become an independent communicator.

Do get in touch if you have any questions or comments or if you would like some practical help.

I am always pleased to hear from you.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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