This post is a 3-years-later follow up to my blog post AAC by 18 Months.
Yesterday morning I received a message reminding me that (exactly) three years ago, I shared this status on Facebook.
Three years ago yesterday was when I decided to lock our modeling/play iPad into guided access and give it to Will, so that he could have his own talker.
He was 17 months old. His speech at the time was on track as a 17 month old---he had a bunch of word approximations (I have them written down somewhere), he would label and request objects, and he wasn’t combining words yet (again, typical for 17 months).
On 2/22/2014 I gave him a talker because he really wanted one. Because it was hard to keep him away from Maya’s talker, and because I thought that introducing him to AAC would deepen their relationship and communication . . . and because AAC is an important part of our family culture.
I also gave it to him because, at that point, I had been running my big mouth online for a few years. I had been shouting into the void that people needed to “provide robust AAC early!” I had argued with parents and professionals in online groups, and confidently declared that “AAC will NOT impede speech development!” and that “When speech becomes easier to access, it will be used!”
And now I had Will, 17 months old, in the adorable early stages of developing his speech, and I was about to put a screen in front of him (a screen! the horror!) and let him use that to communicate.
Guys . . . I was really scared. Like, pit-of-my-stomach, what-if-I’m-about-to-really-mess-up-as-a-mom, it’s-all-well-and-good-to-insist-this-won’t-cause-problems-but-this-is-my-kid’s-future-speech-we’re-talking-about scared. I-can-already-hear-friends-and-family-judging-me-for-giving-my-toddler-a-talking-device scared.
I wish that all professionals could try on this type of fear. With Maya, who had no speech, I ran into the world of AAC with open arms, thirsty to learn and buy and implement and immerse. Deciding to give AAC to Will, and struggling with the emotions that were a part of that decision, allowed me to understand what the process is like for parents of children who have some speech and are being told that they should add AAC into the communication mix. The fear of losing speech, or slowing speech development, is huge. Parents agonize over all sorts of parenting decisions (If I hide vegetables in brownies will my kids ever learn to eat non-hidden vegetables? Will TV time stifle creativity? Will tricking my children into thinking it’s bedtime 30 minutes earlier tonight lead to trust issues?) . . . and those ones don’t carry potential consequences that feel so big.
I am an AAC parent-advocate. I have read a ton of AAC research. I’m heavily involved in AAC networks.
But I gave it to him.
And 3 years later, I can tell you what has happened as a result of that decision.
- We were able to avoid many toddler tantrums related to not understanding our child’s early speech, because he could use AAC as a back-up, or as a way to give clues as to what he was thinking.
- Will’s speech milestones (2 word combinations, sentences, questions, etc.) all occurred either on time or early.
- He began speaking new word approximations after using those words on a talker (e.g., he may have found “blueberries” on the talker and used that button a lot for a few days, and then I’d hear him verbally producing a form of “blueberries”).
- Will and Maya connected in new, deep, amazing ways. For her, Will reinforced that using a talker is just something that people do. For himself, he got to be like his big sister, whom he adores. They giggled together. She taught him how to find new things. He showed her things he wanted to talk about. They still, to this day, make up games about finding words or saying silly sentences.
- As Will spoke more and words became more clear, he used those words on the talker less . . . just as I had said online (when speech is more easily accessible, it will be used).
- Will became an expert in communication repair. He is the most multi-modal 4 year old communicator I’ve ever seen. If he’s saying a word unclearly or can’t remember a word, he will act it out, give amazing clues, tell us words that it sounds like, etc. When he was 2-3 (and so much speech is somewhat unintelligible) he used the talker for communication repair in clever, fantastic ways.
- Will began reading at an age earlier than expected, which I believe is partially due to text exposure and keyboard use.
- He uses the talker now the way that a child might use a dictionary for spelling---he’ll ask me how to spell a word to write down, but if I’m not quick he’ll grab a talker. Or he’ll start typing in the search feature and then check out spellings of multiple words.
- His receptive and expressive language and vocabulary are very high (above 90th percentile at last measurement).
It is unlikely, therefore, that early introduction of AAC had any negative impact on his speech or language development.
It’s been good. Enlightening. Endearing and surprising. Stunning, sometimes. Silly and fun and inspiring, in ways. Amazing.
But that leap . . . it’s tough.
Parents, if you are considering AAC for a nonverbal or minimally verbal little one, but holding back because you’re scared, take the leap. Your child deserves the words, in whatever way they can access them right now. The research says that AAC will not impede speech or language development---it will actually support speech and language development as it provides your child with a voice.
Professionals, the fear is real. Parents may not be holding back because AAC is tough to learn, or difficult to logistically manage, or cumbersome, or unfamiliar. They might be really scared of making the “wrong” choice for their child---they might worry that providing AAC to a little one may seem like an easier way to access words right now, at the cost of risking long term speech development. It’s your job to create a supportive, open environment in which these discussions can be had, to acknowledge these (very real) fears, to provide information and support, and to help these families connect with other AAC families (online or in person).
The struggle is real.
The risk feels real.
The leap is big.
The rewards are kind of limitless.