We definitely recommend getting an evaluation for your child by a professional who is experienced in augmentative communication. Preferably do trials of different options to see what is best for your child’s needs. But once you have the right device and the right setup for your child, here are some tips that we have discovered along the way:
- Charge the device (if it needs charging) and keep it in the same location at all times when your child isn’t actively using it. We leave Mary’s on an armchair we don’t use often. It gets charged there and she knows to go there first thing in the morning if she wants to use it. Also, when we take it out of her backpack after school, we put it right back on the armchair. Our device has a strap so she can wear it when she is going from place to place at school, but she doesn’t really want to do that at home. Having the device in a centralized location makes it much easier for everyone to keep track of where it is.
- If you can, personalize it. Small children especially have an easier time with photographs than symbols. As they get older it is easier to generalize, but we have pictures of each family member with a label on them so other people will know who is who. Mary likes to see the photos of her loved ones, especially while she is at school. We have also added symbols for her favorite foods, tv shows, and music. Once we had these things in place, Mary was much more interested in using the device.
- Don’t use the device only for requests. Requests are great, and that is how many people learn to communicate in the first place, but it is not a request machine, it is a communication device. If you are programming it from scratch, make sure there are interactive options and not just “I want…” type things. Mary has jokes on hers, as well as pages of social interaction where she can ask people their names, what pets they have, and to clue us in on what is bothering her if she isn’t feeling well. It may be harder to teach them to use these parts of the device, as they are not as reinforcing as demands and requests, but stick with it.
- This brings us to the next point, and we cannot stress this one enough because it is critical to your child’s success with AAC: model using the device. We usually say everything as we press the buttons, although it is not necessary to do so, but we have many conversations with Mary while using her device. It was put to us by the speech pathologist this way: you can’t learn a language if you’re the only one who speaks it. The more you interact with the device and your child, the more exposure your child gets and the more familiar everyone will be with the capabilities of the device.
- Learn the device. As much as you can. Watch videos online. Ask the professional who recommended it to you. Read the manual. Any information that’s out there—read it. Become an expert on it. This is your child’s voice. Get as familiar with it as possible.
- Lastly, bring it with you. Sometimes we are guilty of this one but we always regret it. If it is the only way your child can communicate, and you really want them to use the device, it has to be a part of every outing, all the time. Just accept it as part of the family and keep going. If your child needed a wheelchair or a walker, or an inhaler or something like that, you wouldn’t leave it at home when you went out, would you? Your child’s AAC device should be considered to be just as necessary.
Well, that’s it for now. Just keep trying. Trying to find a good AAC device for your child’s ability level, trying to model and get them to use it, and trying to support your child in their desire to communicate. You’ve got this, parents!