AAC: Collaborating for Success!

Some of our students with special needs may have impairments in oral-motor structure or function, difficulty motor planning, or apraxia, or other conditions that impede typical communication development. When it is apparent that these client factors are impeding communication so as to result in a delay in communication development, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) should be introduced.

AAC is “any device, system or method that improves the ability of a child with a communication impairment to communicate effectively.” (Ballinger, 1999) This may include low-tech methods of communication, including: non-verbal behaviors, speech, gestures, including sign languages, picture symbols, and high-tech methods, such as switches and electronic devices. Frequently, it is appropriate to utilize more than one method of communication.

When evaluating a student’s AAC needs, and providing ongoing treatment to enhance communication and participation, it is important to work as a collaborative team, especially in the schools, where many professionals and staff members may be working with a student on a regular basis.

  • Special education teachers may take the lead in organizing the team. They may have the most contact with the student, and are aware of the academic needs that are impacted by difficulty communicating.

  • In some instances, parents and family members are the expert for a student with a history of AAC use, and can be a valuable resource for the rest of the team. For other families, it may be much more important to spend time sharing information and supporting them during initial stages of AAC use.

  • Speech and language pathologists are experts in the development of language and speech, and are key team members during both the evaluation and implementation phases for any AAC program. Some may have sought continuing education and become certified AAC specialists.

  • Occupational therapists are health care professionals who seek to ensure successful participation in meaningful activities for persons with disabilities. When AAC is considered, OTs can offer knowledge of sensory systems, body structures and functions, as well as activity analysis and adaptation to meet individual needs.

  • Assistive technology specialists can support the evaluation and implementation of high technology strategies for AAC. They may have knowledge of the pros and cons of specific systems, and devices, and can serve as the trouble-shooters when problems occur.

  • Other specialized therapists, including physical therapists, hearing therapists, vision therapists, and behaviorists, may be relevant to the individual needs presented.

  • Instructional, behavioral and personal staff are also key members. They may be familiar with the methods or equipment being used, or need support and instruction. But they have daily, personal contact with the AAC user and can be the front line for seeing barriers and reporting successes.

  • It is also especially important to consider the student as a key team member. Ensuring the strategy is a good fit for the user can help the engage in the process, and support good habits of using AAC to communicate!

When working as a team, the goal of supporting the student in his or her ability to communicate with others should remain at the forefront. For more information about collaborating with team members in the school systems, check out our “collaboration” tag, and our Pinterest board: Collaboration and Teamwork.

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