A Communication Device/System can be so empowering for someone who is unable to communicate and share what they want to say and share, hence improving their quality of life. Here are some of the handy tips that can be provided as a tip sheet for the people supporting the use of Communication Device/ Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
First gain attention: A person with communication difficulties may not understand initially what the communication system/device is for, hence it is important to gain their attention and introduce the device during an activity that they enjoy. This will increase the chances of acceptance and success of the communication system.
Minimize distractions: Just like we struggle to listen to people in a loud environment, it is essential that we respect and provide the same communication environment to people with communication difficulties, so they can concentrate and not be distracted/overwhelmed by the factors in their environment.
Show and tell: Often people think that only the person with communication difficulties has to use the communication device, this is not true. To achieve better success, interact with the person using their communication system as you will not only be providing modelling, but also making the communication more inclusive and equal.
Use facial expression & tone of voice: Use your natural and sometimes exaggerated facial expressions to encourage the person with communication difficulties to use their device. The more features we can use in our communication (e.g. gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions etc), the more ways of communication we will be teaching the person with communication difficulties.
Speak slowly: Learning to use AAC is like learning a new language. If we were to learn a new language, we will learn it best if the teacher matches teaching with our pace. Same applies when teaching communication systems; understand and follow the person’s pace of learning and match your teaching with it accordingly.
Keep sentences short and simple: Remember that exposure to a new communication system might be too overwhelming for some people. If they are already struggling to find words, be supportive and do not cause information overload by using longer sentences, especially in the initial stages. Be concise and precise.
Don’t teach too many words at one time: Some people with communication/intellectual difficulties may have difficulties with information processing as well. It is advisable to focus on a list of words (Target words) for every week. This will provide consistent modelling and practicing opportunities.
Talk about things that are present here and now: Avoid teaching abstract concepts in the initial phase. If the person with communication difficulties can communicate their essential and basic things in the beginning phases, it is a great indicator of success.
Talk about one thing at a time: Do not talk about different and diverse things especially in the initial stages. Ideally start with a motivating activity/area of interest and introduce/use the communication device with that activity.
Teach words in context: We all learn best when we can form links and connections between different things. If you are teaching food vocabulary e.g. “yummy”, “yucky”, “more” etc., it is best to teach them in context so the person can benefit from modelling and cause and effect.
Add 1-2 words ahead of the person’s level: If the person with communication difficulties can communicate in 2 words, you can model and expand the communication to, let’s say 3-4 words. For example, if the person with communication difficulties says “eat apple”, you can respond by saying “you want (to) eat apple”.
Give time to respond: Be patient and expect the client with communication difficulties to become frustrated when they may not be able to find the correct word. Help them through.
Acknowledge every communication attempt: If the person with communication difficulties respond by a gesture, vocalization, facial expression, eye gaze or body movement, always acknowledge it. Do not become focused that they have to respond by using the same mode of communication as you, or the one you’re teaching e.g. if you are using Key Word Signs but they may use eye gaze to indicate what they want, it’s completely acceptable. You can still model the Key Word Sign and provide them what they want, so they can associate the Key Word Sign with the result/outcome.
Use praise, give nice comments and positive feedback: Always believe in the potential of people with communication difficulties. Dream big and believe that they can achieve higher goals. Once you are motivated and have faith in them, it will encourage them. Even if they make mistakes, appreciate that they tried.
Written by Muhammad Wasif Haq (2015)
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