Since transferring to working with older students in the schools, I’ve spent a ton of time working with students that use AAC systems including iPad apps, dedicated devices, picture symbols, core boards, and PODD books! Year after year, I kept wishing there was an easier way to implement AAC, especially in the schools. As a busy speech therapist, I didn’t have a ton of time but knew that the consultative piece for AAC (aka getting all of the team members on the same page!) is one of the most important.
Over the past 5 years, I started taking notes on what I observed being effective with my AAC users. I read A TON of research. I trialled different systems and finally came up with an effective 5 step approach to AAC implementation.
PS: Before I get further, you should know that I turned these 5 steps into a best-selling AAC Implementation Toolkit that includes everything you need to get started. Click here to check it out in my TpT store.
Below is the 5-step system I follow. You can skip steps as needed. For example, if your team is already familiar with what AAC is, start on step 2. If your team is already keeping device out and accessible, start on step 3.
AAC Basics means that your team needs to get familiar with what AAC is, the different types (low vs high tech), who uses it, and why it’s important.
During this step, it can be a good idea to let them play around with different devices, apps, and core boards if possible.
Consistent AAC access, while basic, is one of the biggest hurdles with some teams. During this step, teams should be focused on making sure AAC systems and devices are out and accessible AT ALL TIMES. Everyone should understand that these systems are our students’ voice and that it cannot be taken away.
Strategies for keeping the device accessible (including straps and cases) should be explored during this step. If possible, the AAC user should have ownership of their device and transition with it whenever possible.
Step three is for me, the biggest AAC strategy I hear recommended to parents and professionals: AAC modeling. I want everyone on the team to feel comfortable and familiar with using the system to model language.
During this step, team members should learn WHAT to model, WHEN to model, and why it’s so important to model. I talk a lot about teaching, not testing and modeling slightly above the level the AAC user is at.
Step four is teaching about core vocabulary including what it is and why these words are so important to teach. I go over core vs fringe, the versatility of core, good core words to start with, and descriptive teaching.
During this step, you might want to implement a core word of the week system. Or, you could provide a yearly handout with a few words to focus on each month. For other teams, just encouraging modeling of core vocabulary words is enough (and less overwhelming!).
The final step is setting up communication opportunities. During this step, I teach about effective prompting (not doing too much!) and eliciting communication.
I am for 200 communication opportunities A DAY based on AAC research. While this number might initially seem overwhelming, it is absolutely possible when you have an entire team that’s on board and on the same page!
If you’re looking to give a huge boost to the AAC programming where you work, try focusing on each of these steps for a month at a time! In 5 months, your entire team will be so much more knowledgeable about AAC strategies and effective implementation!
If you’re an AAC rockstar already, these steps might seem incredibly basic to you. But, I’ve found that approaching AAC implementation in this order and keeping the focus on simple, effective strategies has worked well for me and my caseload.
Again, if you’re interested in checking out my HUGE AAC Implementation Toolkit packet, click here. It includes tons of handouts, a staff training PowerPoint, data collection sheets, posters, visuals, and so much more! And if you’re on the fence, definitely read the feedback!
Hope that helps give you some ideas! Thanks for reading!
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