What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Introducing an AAC Device

New to AAC? Learn together!
Picture Communication Symbol from Boardmaker
AAC stands for "Augmentative and Alternative Communication." AAC, is a term that is used to describe various methods of communication that can help people who are unable to use verbal speech to communicate. AAC can benefit a wide range of individuals, from a beginning communicator to a more sophisticated communicator who generates his/her own messages.

AAC includes both unaided and aided systems. Unaided systems, like signing and gestures, do not require special materials or equipment. Aided systems use picture charts, books and special computers. AAC methods vary and may be personalized to meet each individual’s needs. Many forms of AAC include an assistive technology component which range from high- to low-tech strategies. 

This posting is about introducing a SGD (Speech Generated Device) to a new (usually young) user.

"From the moment a baby is born, they hear and respond to the spoken word. We bombard that infant with language for the first 12-18 months of their lives. During that time, we do not expect that they will utter a single understandable word.

Why then do we expect a child to spontaneously begin using an augmentative system from the first day they receive it? They too, need and deserve a period of learning from the models of others. This modeling can and should be done by parents, peers, siblings, professionals and others on a regular basis for an extended period of time. In this manner, the system becomes not only an expressive language tool but a receptive one as well." Considering AAC

When you interact with your user of an AAC device, think about:
  • Providing lots of opportunities for them to communicate.
  • Modeling the use of AAC as you talk.
  • Waiting and allow them time to communicate.
  • Responding to their attempts to communicate.
  • Remembering that communication is not all about making requests. 
  • Having fun!
The research suggests that when partners model the use of AAC when they talk:
  • It helps children with special needs understand what is being said to them.
  • It shows the children how AAC can be used to enhance communication.
  • It introduces the children to new vocabulary and more complex messages.

A couple of approaches to consider:
  • Let them "play" and explore it in a casual way.
  • Sit with them and explore/discuss what is on the device, i.e. "Look, if you want to say____ you can go here. Let's see, how did we get there?" Then model it and have them do it. (I do it, we do it, you do it.) 
  • If you know they want to say something that is in the device, say to them, "Oh, I think that is in your talker! Let's go see. Look... You can use your words to tell me now."
  • Bring it into your natural environment as much as possible. Model, allow use, model, allow use...
  • Treat it as you would anyone who is saying things. Example, if they are "talking" when they are not supposed to be, tell them, "It is not time to talk now. Shhhh." If they ask for something, just let her know yes or no. If they say something off the cuff that doesn't pertain to the situation, treat it as you would with any kid, i.e. "Now is not the time to talk about that. We are talking about ____."
  • This will not be their only way of communicating. If they needs to show you, yes have them show you. If you are learning colors, do it the same way you have been. All of their school vocabulary does not need to be on the device.
Be patient. Don't over prompt. Make it available at all times. Provide opportunities to communicate during play and other daily activities. Include opportunities to:
  • Ask questions
  • Comment on play activities
  • Express feelings
  • Comment on books
  • Ask for preferred toys and activities
  • Communicate choices
  • Greet others 
Get creative in your messages:
  • Tell you to turn up the music.
  • Tell the bus driver to drive the bus fast.
  • Tell the other students what songs to sing in circle time.
  • Say good-bye in creative ways.
  • Tell a new knock-knock joke every morning.
Provide wait time. Remember they are still learning how to communicate.
  • They may need additional time to understand what is said to them.
  • They may need additional time to figure out how to answer a question or make a request.
  • They may need time to then think about how they want to respond.
  • They may have vision or motor challenges that delay their response time or ability to locate and indicate what they want to say.
Sit and wait patiently. Research suggests that one of the most effective ways to encourage children to communicate is to pause and wait.
  • Clearly marks the opportunity for them to communicate.
  • Clearly indicates that you expect them to communicate.
  • Provides additional time for them to process what is said.
  • Provides additional time for them to put together a reply.
Wait at least 10 seconds. If they look confused or frustrated, ask them if they would like you to help them. Then if they say yes, model a response.

If partners respond when children attempt to communicate, children learn that:
  • Communication is fun.
  • Communication is powerful.
  • Communicating connects them to other people.

Check out this great poster and possibly post for your staff and yourself to help you remember key points: AAC Boot Camp Poster

Most importantly, make it fun!!!

  • Let’s Talk AAC Blog: Making AAC Work- PRC’s own Jane Odom will offer tips and suggestions for implementing AAC. "Model, Model, Model" and "Let's Have some Fun" By Jennifer Herzog, B.S., PRC Regional Consultant.