Each October international AAC Awareness Month is celebrated around the world. The goal is to raise awareness of augmentative and alternative communication or AAC and to inform the public about the ways in which AAC can support people who experience challenges with communication.
What is AAC?
AAC is basically any form of communication which supports or replaces verbal communication. It can look like signs, picture-based systems or communication devices (and a lot of variations in between).
The most important part of implementing AAC is modelling. To explain what modelling is, let’s look at an everyday example. If you’re learning another language, the best way to do it is by immersing yourself in the language. You will be more familiar with the language, begin to understand more of what is being communicated to you, and you will feel more confident to communicate in that language. Think of AAC like learning another language. When we are modelling, we are helping to immerse our loved ones in their language. Without that model, they’re going to find it extremely difficult to understand it and use it in everyday life. Similarly, when babies are learning to talk, they are learning a new language. We talk to and around them in our first language so they are constantly being immersed in the language they will use for the rest of their lives.
Modelling is about using any given AAC system (Key Sign, PODD, PECS, a speech generating device) on an everyday basis. So that the system is not only used by your child’s Speech Therapist in therapy sessions but it becomes part of how your child learns to communicate throughout each day. For example, signing “sleep” or “bed” when you’re talking about bed time, using picture symbols to indicate that you “like this” when you’re doing something enjoyable, or selecting “want” on their device when asking what they’d like to do. We don’t expect an infant to learn to communicate without exposing to them to language. By the time babies are 18 months old, they will have heard an average of 4380 hours of spoken language. This is how babies begin to learn and the same logic should be applied to children learning to communicate with the support of AAC.
Someone is more likely to use their AAC system if they know they’re speaking to people in the same language. As adults, we wouldn’t start practicing our French skills (for example) with someone that didn’t speak French, because we may not be understood. Similarly, AAC users will be more likely to use their prescribed systems if they know they’ll be heard and understood. Therapy sessions are not enough to successfully implement AAC for long term, functional use.
If you’d like some further ideas on how you can use modelling for AAC in your everyday routines, have a chat to your Speechie. If the assigned activities are too much to manage at the moment, be sure to be honest about this as there may be a way to scale these down. For example, there could there be a less complex option for mealtimes that will fit in with your family. We are here to work with you and to support this as a lifelong sustainable journey for you and your child.
AAC can open doors to independence, inclusion and connection to others. Let’s work together to make this achievable, and make modelling a natural part of everyday life.