Monday, August 11, 2014

The Merits of AAC Exploration

In recent months, AAC has not been my focus.

If you're gasping dramatically, chances are that you're one of our SLP/AAC friends, and if you're thinking "Oh thank goodness I'm not the only one who drops the ball," then chances are that you're living in an AAC family.

We haven't been focused on AAC because . . . well, because life. I've taken two (accelerated summer) classes in the past two months, Maya has started at a new school with a new staff, Dave has been on vacation, and the priority list just shifted all around. The talkers are always around, always accessible, and used a good amount, but I haven't really been teaching or modeling with any real level of commitment.

I've got grand plans (actually, really vague ones that mostly involve just a lot of modeling and some targeted vocabulary selection) at doing some AAC immersion for the next few weeks. Maya's summer school session ended today, Dave went back to work on Friday, and I'm going to be home with both kids until September. Add in the fact that I've got an injured foot (with a boot) and I'll have plenty of parked-at-home time, perfect for aided language input (aka "modeling", or pushing buttons on a device to show the AAC user how to use it conversationally, where to find words you're targeting, etc).

But this post isn't actually about modeling. Or teaching. Or aiding language development. It's about leaving kids alone and letting them explore their devices.

Will, now 22 months old, hasn't gotten a ton of modeling on his talker (for the reasons mentioned above). What he has gotten is (mostly) unlimited access to it. He insists on having it in his crib when he goes to bed for the night, and every morning I know he's awake when I hear the talker through the monitor. I have no idea what he's talking about most days, and a cynic would undoubtedly hear the disjointed words or repetitive again-again-again-again-no-no-no-no and say "he's stimming! he's just hitting random things!" . . . but they would be wrong.

By having unstructured time to explore his talker, without scrutiny or stress or goals, Will has the ability to play with it in whatever way he chooses. He can push the buttons at the top to learn about fucntions of the app. He can linger on favorite screens and study the little pictures. He can pop in and out of secondary pages and learn the location of words. He can find words that he loves the sound of (he really loves again) and "say" them over and over and over again. And his connection to his device grows, because he's enjoying it on his own terms---it's not a tool that he's being forced into using, it's a really interesting and powerful (and FUN) thing that he gets to use however he wants.

Two morning ago I sat with Will (who still looks a little sleepy in his pajamas, is sporting a few good bug bites on his head, and is clutching my cell phone in one hand and intermittently gnawing on the other because he's cutting teeth) and turned on the video camera. My goal was just to see what he would choose to do or say if we were both focused on the talker (the fancy speech therapy term for that is joint attention), but I didn't direct any sort of activity. I wanted him to take the lead, and I just wanted some baseline video . . . but I was actually surprised by what I saw. In his free exploration time, it turns out that Will has taught himself a lot of things about how to work the features of his app (Speak for Yourself). I've highlighted things as they happen in the video, but here's a list of what he does: uses the home key to return to the previous page, opens and closes the keyboard, clears the sentence strip, opens the search feature, types and activates the search feature, scrolls through a list terms. 

I didn't teach him any of this. And that's not to say that he's a baby genius, it's to say that he's a kid who has had a wealth of unstructured time (that's a nice way of saying that he's a second child and sometimes left to his own devices) with a talker . . . which has a lot of merits.

I wanted to share this because I think it really highlights the type of learning (and ownership of a device) that can only happen when kids have time to explore. ( And without sounding too salespitch-y, the babble and search features of Speak for Yourself make this type of learning really easily accessible to users, even users who are really young.) 

PS: For families out there who might be watching this and hoping to get ideas for modeling, this is not the video for that. I'm not doing a good job of modeling, because my goal was to get a baseline video of his AAC use before I really start active modeling over the next few weeks. I join in a few times (because I can't resist, and because it renews his focus when he sees me interact with the talker) but I'm not really focused on anything specific.

PPS: At the end when he says "Oh no See" he's pointing out that I paused his show, "Sid the Science Kid."


Elise (Kids Included Together) said...

So true!! Although our kids need some modeling and direction in many ways, they are often capable of teaching themselves SO much, if we just get out of their way. Thank you for this powerful reminder to foster independence by pushing our kids to explore the world on their own! I hope your foot gets better!!

John McCarthy said...

Thanks for the post. I am frequently reminded by my kids that although I may see play as a discrete activity, everything is really play. Language is play, objects are play, exploration is play. Sometimes the poorest results are when I try to get my youngest to stop "playing around" and focus. There is a distinct lack of creativity there. When I hear him just talking to himself- magical things happen.

PS- Were those accelerated classes SLP prerequisites?

Erica said...

this is awesome. i love that you have allowed will to explore life like his big sister does instead of hoping she would follow him. this gives me some ideas. wish I have thought about this sooner!

Anonymous said...

It really irks me when people automatically refer to repetitive language as "stimming" especially on an AAC device. Stimming does happen, but I think oftentimes it's much better described as exploring. Reading you describe Will pressing buttons on the talker in his crib sounds EXACTLY like what my typically developing 24-month old does in his crib--he talks to himself all the time and I don't call it stimming! All AAC users should be allowed to explore as you've described in the way that verbal communicators are allowed to play with sounds and words however and whenever they want to.