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How to help your child use their AAC Device

There are many advantages to using an AAC device with your child who is struggling to communicate their wants and needs. AAC devices are a great way to build your child’s expressive and receptive language skills. They are also a great way to support communication skills and can decrease frustration and negative behaviors. In the beginning, AAC devices can appear intimidating to the child and parent. Here are a few strategies to help incorporate a communication device into your child’s daily routine activities!

1. Modeling

This is an important step in teaching your child how to use an AAC device. Your child will learn best by watching you model communication. Children learn how to speak by listening and watching you. They need to know what it looks like to communicate and use an AAC device. Start simple with just 1-3 word phrases. With an AAC device, you don’t have to model every single word in a sentence. Just the core words. For example, if you know your child wants a cookie model, “I want cookie” on the AAC device. Then have your child copy the same phrase and reward them with a cookie. The next time your child wants a cookie ask, “what do you want?” and gesture to the AAC device. If your child is having trouble, model the phrase again for them and have them imitate. 

2. Get familiar with your AAC

Make your child’s AAC personalized. Instead of having icons representing food, family members and toys, take pictures of the food items your child eats, the family members they interact with and their favorite toys at home! Find opportunities throughout the day to incorporate your child’s AAC device. You can use the device during mealtimes, play-time, social interactions, etc. The more you use it, the more comfortable your child will feel using it too. Start by using the device during preferred activities. You want your child to have a positive experience using the AAC device. If you were only using it during structured activities that aren’t enjoyable for your child, they might begin to have an adverse reaction towards the device. 

3. Set up opportunities for your child to use their device

Find situations where your child can practice using their device. Have them request for toys, snacks, bathtime, songs, books, bedtime stories, etc! Present your child with an item that is motivating to them. Then wait to see if they use their device to request for it. If not, point to the AAC device to encourage them to make a request. Also, provide immediate reinforcement and verbal praise to increase your child’s motivation and participation. Throughout the day incorporate yes/no questions, ‘wh’ questions, feelings/emotions, categories and actions (run, play, jump, go). Make sure the AAC device is always present and close by. You want your child to have as many opportunities as they can using their new communication system. The key is practice, practice, practice!

4. Learning new vocabulary words

If your child has not been exposed to a word, they are not going to know how to use it. For example, if your child has never seen a cat before, showing them a picture of a cat and asking, “what is this?” is not beneficial. Instead, model the word and pair it with the experience. If you are at the park with your child and they haven’t seen a slide before, model the word “slide” and then go down the slide with them. Continue to model the word each time they go down the slide. If you are trying to teach the word “open”, model the word on their device and then model the action with either a door, bottle cap, or book. Providing repeated exposure to new words will increase their understanding and expand their vocabulary!