October is AAC awareness month. So many may ask, what is AAC stand for. Definitely hard to keep track of all the acronyms in the special education world. When you both teach children with special needs and have a child with special needs, you often find yourself talking in acronyms forgetting some may not know what you are talking about. AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC comes in many forms. For Courtney, it’s in the form of a tablet with a layout of pictures that is considered a voice output system. These pictures lead to more pictures that lead to more pictures and so on. When you push these buttons, a voice speaks.
Courtney started this system last year. We decided to go this route after spending a year of her receiving speech therapy and seeing that her verbal language was not improving. Going the route of a device isn’t easy either. It wasn’t just handing this cool looking tablet to her and she would suddenly start talking. Imagine your first day in a foreign language class. Basically, handing a device to a child is like you looking through that foreign language text book when they first hand it to you. Except you are handing this device to a child with significant delays.
So how do you even begin to teach a child how to use it? The best way to teach a child how to use it is the same way you would teach a baby to talk. Model, model, model. Here’s the difficult part. For most parents, this device is a foreign language to them too. I watch Joe struggle to use it because of how much it is still a foreign language to him. I find it very hard to use the device at home myself and here I am “fluent” in it since my students at school all have one. Courtney has her ways to communicate her wants and needs to us through non-verbal ways. So in the midst of making dinner, a 2 year old demanding your attention, husband arriving home and everything else that can happen in a 15 minute span, when Courtney goes to the fridge and opens the door, sometimes it is easier to just get her the milk without making her request it with her talker. But how is that teaching her how to communicate? Working with Courtney on this device has opened my eyes to what it’s like for the parent’s of my students. Here Courtney has someone who is able to speak her foreign language struggle in the midst of chaos, how are parent’s who don’t know the foreign language yet able to model in the midst of chaos? I use to get really frustrated with parents when they weren’t using it at home, but I kinda get it now. Sometimes I get really frustrated that Joe isn’t using it more, but again, I have to step back and realize, it’s just as much as a foreign to him as it is to her. So how do we make it less of a foreign language to families? As for me, what will make me use it more with her? I just have to keep reminding myself that if I want to teach my daughter how to communicate with the world around her, I need to be as diligent as I am with teaching Alyssa how to speak.
I’m doing a poor job selling how awesome AAC is. It is truly awesome. These devices give children like Courtney a voice. Let me tell you, I remember her first request for milk on this thing like most people remember their child’s first word. One of my sisters watched the girls not too long ago. She got to observe Courtney during one of her therapy sessions and got to see her use the device. When I got home, my sister talked about how cool it was to see her use it and how it would be great to be more familiar with it. That made my day. It’s motivating me to work harder not only with Courtney, but teaching those who love Courtney how to use it. Alyssa isn’t only learning how to talk by listening to me. She is listening to her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents. Courtney needs to learn from them too. It’s time for me to teach them too. Not sure how yet, but no time better than AAC Awareness month.