When we talk about prompting for AAC this category becomes even more complex as we look at our student's ability to generate a message and to initiate a conversation. When you look at teaching a discrete sound, we do not teach how to use that /r/ in conversation right way- we build the skill slowly and methodically. As we teach specific vocabulary we don't concern ourselves with the patient's ability to categorize the object or use it in a variety of contexts after only one or two presentations. In teaching a young child to initiate communication with a partner we do not insist he or she communicate verbally, in the beginning we accept all communication verbal and non-verbal. Yet when we teach AAC we have the tendency to teach all these processes simultaneously and, often times, we forget how many things we are actually asking our AAC learners to do.
What if we break down the- seemingly- simple task of asking for a snack. Depending on the lay-out of the child's communication system he/she must (1) recognize it is his/her turn to talk (2) locate the communicate system (3) determine what button will lead to foods from the home page (3) initiate the motor movement to activate that specific button (and possible repeat this process 1 or 2 more times to reach a snacks page) (4) locate the desired snack and (5) initiate the motor movement to activate that button.
It really is a lot of work to say one simple thing> sometimes I may not be hungry enough to bother with all of that either!
So here is the conundrum: how do we encourage our kids to use AAC without creating prompt dependancy. In the PECS protocol a large objective of the initial phases is to teach initiation of communication. The hope here is that our kids will learn to generate a message in the absence of any prompt> verbal, physical, or auditory. The key is that our kiddos are so smart and pick up on the tiniest cues, we have all had that student who watches our eyes until we look at the right answer- and then choose that one.
Here are some of my tricks for reducing prompt dependency while teaching kiddos how to use a communication system.
- Model, model, model. It is said at nauseam but it really is the more effective way to teach students. Our verbal kiddos are hearing good language models all day every day in their teachers, parents, and friends. The kiddos using AAC have almost no language models, and they have a language learning disability- this puts them at a huge disadvantage. The only way to close this gap is to model whenever we get the chance. I teach my families to SNEC modeling in every day: (1) SPEAK for your kiddo (2) NARRATE what you are doing (3) EXPAND on their communication- add a word to what they are saying (4) COMMENT for yourself and your child- things are fun, funny, sad, silly, and frustrating all the time so show your child that language when it is really relevant and meaningful.
- Start with NATURAL cues. This is as simple as waiting 5-10 seconds when that glass of juice is empty or their shoe is untied. Our kids have a lot to process all the time (1) recognize my shoe is untied (2) figure out what to do about it (3) process the language to ask for help (4) locate my communication system (5) activate the buttons in the right order to get the help I need. As parents and teachers we are really great at anticipating our kids needs, sometimes too great! We see that juice glass getting low before she even takes her last sip. By the time we have asked if she wants "more juice", she may just be noticing her cup is low! We need to slow way down and give our kids the time they need to process their environment and formulate a response to the environmental cues, not our questions and probes.
- Set them up for success. Thinking back to teaching articulation: we don't get one correct production of /r/ then expect the kiddo to be doing /r/ tongue twisters the next day, anyone can tell you that's silly. We would continue to practice /r/ in isolation, then in words, move on to sentences, then into conversation. Step-by-step we would expect a little bit more from our student. Same goes for our kiddos using AAC. Yes, they absolutely need to learn to navigate from the home page to "I need" and "to use the bathroom" when they are with grandma and grandpa at the zoo. However, it is unrealistic to expect him/her to do that if they have only accurately navigated to that button 2 or 3 times in therapy. I have always worked from the inside out when teaching AAC (that can mean teaching a skill mastered in therapy at home or in the community as well). Open that device up to the food and drinks page if it's lunchtime at the zoo and let your kiddo choose from there. Work your way back to the home page step by step, just like you would with those pesky /r/'s.
For some other great resources on prompting check out here, here, and here.
Have a great day!