Learning a new language can be a daunting task, but what if that language is not just another spoken language, but rather a communication system that involves the use of symbols and pictures? This is the reality for many individuals who rely on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to communicate.
So, how can we help children learn to use their new AAC language?
The answer is simple - speak AAC to teach AAC! The best way to learn any language is to hear other people speak it. Similarly, the more we use AAC to communicate, the easier it becomes for the child to understand how it works.
Research has shown that children need to hear a word around 500 times before they start using it themselves. However, AAC users may need to see someone use a word symbol as much as 50-125 times to learn it. That's why it's important for adults to talk with symbols as often as they speak.
Aided Language Input is a term used to describe the approach where adults around a new AAC user should talk to the child using their AAC. It is essential to keep it real and simple. Children learn a new language by watching other people talk for real purposes in real situations. Parents and caregivers are the most powerful influence on a child's ability to learn to "speak AAC."
Starting simple is key when introducing AAC to a child.
Parents and caregivers can begin by picking a typical activity they and their child do often and start from there. Reading a book or playing a game is an easy place to begin. Using the child's AAC system, parents can choose 1-3 symbols/words to use as often as possible during the activity. For example, while playing a game, each time you take a turn, you could touch "I" or touch "go" and say "turn." When reading a book, parents can comment on the story by saying "like!" and touch the "like" symbol or say "go" or "more" as they turn the page. It's important not to worry about making perfect sentences at this point. Parents should think about what their child can do with their system and try to talk in symbols just one tiny step above them.
It's essential to remember that no one communicates in just one way, and the same goes for AAC users.
They may use symbols on their device, a matching iPad app, on their classroom SMART board, in a book, or even taped to the refrigerator. Parents and caregivers can use all of these symbols too! The important piece is to let the child see them talk with symbols as much as possible. If their actual system isn't available, parents should not hesitate to use all the other options too! All high tech AAC users should have at least one printed backup.
In conclusion, the more parents and caregivers use AAC to communicate with their child, the easier it becomes for the child to understand how it works. It's essential to start simple and not worry about making perfect sentences at first. Remember, no one communicates in just one way, and the same goes for AAC users. The more options available, the better.