We know you are an expert when it comes to everything AAC. What do you think has lead you to specialize in this communication?
Thank you for my new "expert" title! I hesitate to call myself an expert because, even 26 years into studying AAC, I am forever finding new ideas, techniques and resources that I'd never seen before. I stumbled into AAC when I was in graduate school to become a speech language pathologist. I was immediately drawn to the idea that I could quickly give someone the power of communication while we worked on, and waited for speech to develop. People often assume that when choosing to work with people who have complex communication needs, you must be a very "patient" person due to the challenges in this field. The opposite is actually true for me. I'm not patient at all and I don't think the people I work with should have to be patient either. The right to communicate is not something you should have to wait for. All people deserve effective and efficient right now. They shouldn't have to wait for their speech to develop. I love AAC because we can have an immediate and profound impact on a person's life.
Who can benefit from attending your workshop? What new knowledge do you think they can gain?
Our workshop is designed for families and professionals supporting people with complex communication needs. I hope that moms, dads, teachers and therapists will benefit from the resources, strategies and tools we will discuss. We will talk about figuring out communication skills and needs and then determining appropriate goals. We'll discuss strategies for choosing the messages and words to teach to have an immediate impact and to help develop long-term communication and language skills. Finally, we'll spend time talking about simple techniques you can use to help your non-speaking person develop their communication skills.
What do you think makes an individual an ideal candidate for an AAC device?
I believe an ideal candidate for augmentative communication is someone who is not able to meet their needs to communicate effectively and to develop age appropriate language skills. Augmentative communication though, is not just a communication device. It means any method of communicating that supplements speech. For some people that means sign language, for some, communication books and for others a comprehensive communication device or app. A device is beneficial for many people because it provides a voice that can be heard and understood by almost everyone. It doesn't have to be interpreted and can be used almost anywhere (except the pool and bathtub!). There are challenges to the use of a communication device though. The most obvious issue is that is must be deliberately taught and learned. You cannot simply hand a non-speaking person a communication device and expect that they will use it.
Why is setting goals for communication so important?
Setting goals helps us deliberately teach, and EXPECT, communication. People expect that learning to communicate by way of AAC will occur naturally, without specific intervention. That is similar to expecting someone to learn to speak Spanish by giving them an English-to-Spanish dictionary. Simply having access to the words does not make one a competent communicator. Although AAC is presented in a person's native language, learning to "speak AAC" is akin to learning a whole new language. We need to be immersed in an environment that speaks our new language and simultaneously supports and encourages us to use it ourselves. Those supports come from our partners thinking about our needs and setting goals to help us accomplish them.
What is the most important advice you can give to a parent of a child who uses an AAC device?
- Talk to your child in the way you expect them to talk back to you. Make sure that they have the physical ability to talk to you in this way (either by speech, touching a device, signing a word, looking at a screen or tapping a switch).
- Expect them to communicate and WAIT for it. If they need help, give it to them.
- Never, ever tell your child what to say. You might make suggestions, offer choices or ask them to confirm what you "think" they are saying ("you want a 'cookie?'"). If you understand them enough to tell them what to say, respond to them first, and only then give them suggestions for other, more advanced ways they might communicate the message. Communication is about saying what you want to say, not repeating what someone else wants you to say. It's not about stating your name to people who already know you, labeling a color or "using your words." It's about effectively telling someone what's on your mind.