Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices have revolutionized the way individuals with communication challenges can express themselves. When it comes to selecting the right AAC solution, it’s crucial to involve the students themselves in the decision-making process. However, what if the student cannot communicate their preferences verbally? In this blog post, we’ll explore strategies that Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) can employ to gather comprehensive feedback from individuals, ensuring that the chosen AAC solution truly meets their needs.
Device and App Selection
- Direct Communication: If the individual has intact language skills, they can directly express their preferences. Adults, for instance, can often articulate which AAC system they prefer. It’s important to listen to their input and consider it seriously.
- Trial and Experience: Some students may not have the knowledge to decide between AAC systems initially. However, by allowing them to experience trials with different devices and apps, they can start indicating their preferences. This might include selecting the color of the device, the AAC program, the voice, or even the orientation (horizontal or vertical).
- Observation: Even when students can’t communicate their preferences verbally, SLPs can observe their responses. Look for cues like which device they gravitate towards, which one they repeatedly access, or which they reach for when given options. Pay attention to the device they seem to pay the most attention to during interactions.
Input for Planning the Assessment Process
- Interviews: Conduct interviews not only with the student but also with parents, therapists, and teachers who know the student well. Gather insights on how the individual currently communicates and what they hope to achieve with the AAC system.
- Interests and Preferences: For children, understanding their most favorite topics and activities is essential for planning the evaluation. This knowledge helps in tailoring the AAC system to align with their interests, making it more engaging and effective.
During the Assessment
- Observation Continues: Throughout the assessment process, continue to observe the student’s responses to the systems being trialed. Note their reactions and interactions with the devices and apps.
- Existing Communication: Pay attention to how the student is already communicating using non-verbal methods, such as vocalizations, facial expressions, gestures, and motor movements. These actions convey messages they want to communicate, and the chosen AAC solution should support and enhance their existing communication style.
Involving students in the AAC solution decision process is crucial for ensuring that their communication needs are met effectively. Even when students cannot express their preferences verbally, a combination of trial experiences, careful observation, and input from those who know them well can guide SLPs in selecting the most suitable AAC solution. By considering the individual’s interests, needs, and existing communication methods, we can empower them to express themselves more effectively and participate fully in their daily lives.