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COMMUNICATION FOR ALL – How AAC Helps Children Find Their Voice

This post was originally written for Child Guide Magazine. Check out the many resources Child Guide offers as well as this article and others HERE.

 

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “communication”? Do you think of talking? That is what most people consider to be communication. But what if you don’t have a voice to talk? Or if when you talk no one can understand what you are saying? How do you communicate then?

 

Speech-language pathologists help those without an audible voice find their “voice” by introducing them to AAC. What is AAC? Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is just that; other ways, using high or low technology, to communicate. AAC includes something as simple as a head nod to something as high tech as a speech generating device.

 

The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association defines AAC as all forms of communications, other than oral speech, used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas. AAC can be aided or unaided. Unaided AAC is using body language, gestures and/or sign language to communicate. Aided AAC is when tools and/or equipment are used, such as pictures and speech devices.

 

Communication is a right of all people and it is the job of a Speech-Language Pathologist to help children access that right in the absence of the ability to speak. But how does one decide which AAC approach is best for the child? There are recommended criteria that typically have to be met for the child to be considered as an AAC candidate.

 

  1. Does the child understand cause and effect? Cause and effect is the foundation of communication; I do something and get something in return. Sometimes cause and effect can be taught using an AAC device.

 

  1. Manual dexterity and fine motor skills. To be able to access sign language as a means of communication the child must have the fine motor skills to perform two-handed signs. Also, to be able to push a button to activate a speech device, the child must be able to control the motor movement of the arm and hand. Tilt switches (a simple head tilt) and eye gaze systems exist to allow children with minimal controlled movement to access AAC.

 

  1. Motivation! The child has to be motivated to communicate to be successful with any type of communication option. A highly desirable reward just might motivate any child to use their AAC!

 

So what does AAC look like for real kids? How does their voice sound? Meet Claire and Ethan, two AAC user success stories!

 

Claire

Claire Elias, daughter of Mark and Melanie Elias of Frederick, Maryland, is an adorably sweet 4-year-old girl. Claire loves the color pink and hugging her stuffed animals. She loves to watch Minnie Mouse and Sophia the First and her best friend is her twin brother, Chase. Claire has an incredibly happy disposition and a smile that lights up a room. Claire uses AAC to express herself. At the age of 2 she began using an iPad with a communication app to request toys and answer yes/no questions. The fine motor movements necessary to operate the iPad proved to be a difficult for Claire. Now she uses a PODD (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display ) book to communicate. A PODD book is a picture system that allows Claire to use visual gaze to make requests, ask questions, comment, etc. Claire will be 5 in June and will attend Kindergarten next fall. Her PODD book goes with her everywhere, just like her voice.

 

 

Ethan

Ethan Judd, son of Christy and Jeff Judd of Inwood, WV, is a 6-year-old kindergartener at Bunker Hill Elementary. Ethan has an awesome sense of humor and a determined mindset. His favorite colors are green and orange and he loves, and often wins, playing UNO. Because of his tracheostomy, Ethan was unable to access his voice during his infant, toddler and preschool years. During this time Ethan used a combination of sign language and an iPad with a communication app. Since then Ethan has gained respiratory strength and now mostly relies on his voice to communicate. Sometimes he accompanies his speech with sign language to increase his intelligibility (the clarity of how he is understood). Ethan’s story is an example of how AAC bridged the gap for him until he was strong enough to vocalize. AAC gave Ethan a voice when his wasn’t available to him.

 

Claire and Ethan’s stories are just 2 of many, many AAC success stories. If you know a child who has yet to “find” their voice, contact an SLP close to you to help. Communication is a right of all individuals, no one should be denied!

 

Lacy Morise, M.S. CC/SLP, better known as Miss Lacy, is a Speech-Language Pathologist with the WVBTT and Loudoun County Schools. She is co-owner of Milestones & Miracles, LLC (www.milestonesandmiracles.com), a company dedicated to educating families about the importance of PLAY. She loves to use verbal and nonverbal language approaches to help kids access their right to communicate!

Homework for My “Speechie” Parents

As a speech language pathologist it is key that I engage the family in the therapy process.  In order to best help a child, the family must understand why I am doing what I am doing with their child and how it will help them.  And in order for therapy to be most effective, parents must follow through with my tips and suggestions when playing/interacting with their child at home.  This is called generalization.  Without generalization of new skills my efforts in therapy are ineffective and pointless.

 

When I worked in the school system as an elementary school SLP the children on my caseload had a speech homework folder.  When they completed their weekly homework and returned it to me, they received a sticker.  After 5 stickers were earned, they received the “honor” of visiting my treasure chest.  (You know one of those glorified cardboard boxes with dollar store plastic treasures inside…kids eat that stuff up!)  This proved to be the most effective way of informing the parents of what we were working on in therapy and encouraged them to work with their child at home on specific skills.  Now that I work as an early intervention SLP and am in the homes of the children I serve I rely heavily on parents just observing what I do with their child and trust that they will then work with their children in similar ways when I am not there.  Some parents do this…others find it hard.  Either they don’t recognize what I am doing as different or helpful for their child or they don’t understand why it may be helping. Sometimes I don’t do a good enough job explaining what I want them to do when I’m gone and sometimes they are unable to follow through because life just gets too crazy.  At times, I find myself wondering, what can I do or suggest that might make it easier for them to support the language development of their little ones?

 

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Introducing My Toddler Talks!   This is an easy to use book of “homework” focusing on speech and language development for parents. I recently had the privilege of reading this book when I received it from author Kim Scanlon, MA CCC/SLP.  Kim wrote this book for parents of all toddlers (developing typically and atypically) who want to encourage their child’s language development.  My Toddler Talks teaches parents how to “model and elicit language in a fun, straightforward and practical manner…”  The book highlights 25 play routines using toys found in most homes (play doh, stickers, etc.) and expands those routines by scripting language between the parent and toddler.  Often parents want to play more purposefully with their child but don’t know how.  This book gets you there.  Kim helps you model language that is developmentally appropriate for you child’s age and then gives you tips on how to elicit more language from them.  Often toddlers become frustrated when they can’t verbalize their desires. My Toddler Talks helps to diffuse that frustration by fostering earlier language development through play…the best way a child learns!  So for the parent who wants to do more, wants some “homework” to do with their toddler, My Toddler Talks is the answer.  It gets down to the old school version of child development:  PLAY!  No television, iPad, iPhone, computer or batteries required!  Thank you Kim for helping parents get back to basics of PLAY and helping them open up a world of possibility through communication with their child!  PLAY builds brains…and fantastic communication skills!

 

I love recommending My Toddler Talks as a resource for  the families I work with.  When I am not there, they can easily flip to a play routine in the book and know that they are benefiting their child’s language development while also having fun with them.  My Toddler Talks is the home based version of the homework folder I used to send home with my elementary students, but for toddlers.  I can site specific play routines that might be most beneficial for the parent and they will have their book to refer to and carry out the “homework” during the week.  It serves as  way to further engage parents in being the best early teachers of their children and one thing I know for sure as an SLP, when parents are engaged regularly with their children in play, rich with language, children become communicators themselves!

 

Check out My Toddler Talks today and start communicating with the toddler in your life!

 

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Find great tips on speech and language development on the My Toddler Talks website:  http://www.mytoddlertalks.com/.  You can also follow Kim on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.