Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Getting Started with Meaningful Modeling

So you’ve got an AAC device and you’re ready to see the magic of communication unfold? 

Well, get ready to jump in and help with the unfolding, because this is going to require your participation. Look back at Monday’s post about aided language input, check out yesterday’s video clips of modeling in action, and get ready to jump in. (Or, to re-jump in, because modeling never stops. Once your child is speaking in 6 word sentences, you can model 7 word sentences. Or metaphors. Or alliteration. Or something. There’s always more.)

First things first: you have some work to do before you can start modeling.  You need to learn the language. I remember the first night we had Maya’s app: as soon as she was in bed I sat with in a tapped in and out of screens, trying to note where important words were.  Here are some tricks that might be helpful:

  • Read a children's book using your child's device. Choose something simple, substitute pronouns (he/she/it) for overly specific vocabulary that you may not have programmed yet.

  • Have a conversation with your spouse, a friend, or yourself, using only the device as your voice.
  • Look at any random thing in your line of sight and describe it using the device: what it is? what can you do with it? what are some adjectives that you could apply to it (color, texture, materials, attributes)?

This is a blue, hard chair. I can sit on the chair, and you can too. 
I can push on the chair and make it go.
She can sit on the chair and so can he, but not everyone together. 
It is a small chair, not a big one. I can step on the chair and climb up high. 
Can you step up? Be careful not to fall! 
I like the blue chair, but I love yellow chairs. What color do you like?

  • If you're a member of an online users group, see if other parents want to connect over Skype/Facetime and try to talk using only the device.

Now that you've prepped, you need to figure out what to model. 

How many words to model: If you read this post on the Speak for Yourself blog, you would have in mind that it's a good start to model one more word than the child is currently producing (sometimes I mix it up and throw in a few complete sentences---you know your user and you'll see what works best for them). 

Which words to model: Core words offer the most bang for the buck. There are only a few conversations that involve the word "rhinoceros" . . . but the words "go" "can" "make" "stop" "on" "off" "in" "out" . . . well, you probably use them everyday, many times, without even noticing. Ideally, you want to make sure you're modeling a nice mix of nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc. (Old school AAC focused a lot on making choices/requests from a field of nouns, and the verbs were shelved for too long.) All of that being said, if your child is rhinoceros obsessed, then teach it! And then, quickly, start teaching about how the rhinoceros can move or stop, is heavy, has four feet, etc.

Which types of speech to model: Besides thinking about the specific words you're modeling, think about the different ways that people use language. If you want to help model communication, you need to model all types of communication. Speech is used for a ton of different purposes. Imagine sitting with a child and a pumpkin (since fall is in the air)---here are some different types of language that can be modeled just about one pumpkin. 

Functions of Language


“pumpkin”   “orange” “That is a pumpkin.”


“Give me that” “Give me pumpkin” “For me”

Asking questions

 “What is that?”   “Is it heavy?” “Is it big?” “Can you pick it up?” “Can it move?”  “What can you tell me about that thing?” "Where could we look for pumpkins?" "When do you see pumpkins in the store?" "Do you know a holiday that has to do with pumpkins?"  "Who can eat a pumpkin?"

Answering questions

(answer any of the stuff above)

Getting someone’s attention

“Look! A pumpkin!”


if the child isn’t interested in what you’re doing
“Don’t like this.” “No pumpkins!” “Hate pumpkin!” “Something different now.”


“This pumpkin is so big!” “Pumpkins grow outside.”
“The pumpkin feels bumpy.” “I like this color.”


“Can we cut it up and make a pumpkin pie?”
“This is my pumpkin!”
“I really like this blue pumpkin.”


referring to the box directly above
“Not yours---mine!”
“No! Orange pumpkin!”

Bossing people around

Roll the pumpkin and have the child direct the activity:
“Go!” “Stop” “Go faster!” “Go slower!”


(in the activity above)
“No more game. All done.” “Not done. More now!”


Tell the pumpkin not to roll. Tell the child that the pumpkin isn’t going to roll anymore. Roll the pumpkin and pretend that you didn’t see it happen (or have a puppet/doll push it and pretend you didn’t see)

“It went!” “More rolling!” “I saw it go!” “Naughty!” “Sneaky!” “Silly pumpkin!”

Talking about feelings

“I like the pumpkin” “The pumpkin makes me happy”

Talking about the past

“Last year we went to pick a pumpkin at the farm.”

Talking about the future

“Maybe we can go pick a pumpkin tomorrow.”

And that's not a comprehensive list of language functions, either! And it's just one silly pumpkin! Imagine all of the great stuff you could say about something that's actually cool!

At this point, you could be thinking Wait, I couldn't really say any of that stuff with our system. It's too hard to model novel sentences on, or We have a lot of specialized vocabulary but not a lot of core words, or We have a lot of nouns and requesting words but I don't think I've ever noticed the question words. Well then . . . it may be time to re-evaluate your system. If the words aren't there, or if they are there but in a way that you (as a fully literate adult without motor/access challenges) can't get to them easily, then this is not a fair long-term set-up for your child.

Hopefully you're thinking Wow! I'm really getting this! But understanding is easier than actually doing it. And that's true. You know what makes modeling easier? Planning. For some reason I just thought modeling for Maya would come naturally (which it did, a little, but certainly not to the extent that I'm discussing here). I attended the ISAAC conference in 2014 and was impressed by the amount of planning and structure that went into the AAC interventions that were presented and discussed. I realized that I should approach AAC teaching/learning the same way that I would approach any other type of teaching/learning (by planning and preparing ahead of time). 

Here are two resources that may help you to approach modeling with a bit of forethought: 

First, this brainstorming chart from the Speak for Yourself team lets you start simply---what's one thing that your child really loves---and helps you build from there. (It originally appeared here.)

Second, here's an empty copy of the chart I made above. If you're a planner, you can think about an activity (play-doh? reading a book? playing with toy cars? digging a hole outside?) and brainstorm different things that you could model. You can view and print it here.  

Remember, this is a marathon. All modeling is good modeling. Any time you use AAC to communicate, you are validating and supporting your child's use of AAC. The offerings here may help to boost your modeling game and help you target language in a more meaningful way, but don't waste one second feeling badly if you read this and thought "well, there's another thing I don't have time for." Maybe you don't have time today, but you can carve out time at some point this week to work on this (put it on your calendar). This adds up. This will make a difference.

Happy Modeling!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello,I work for an organization that supports individuals with developmental disabilities. Part of my responsibilities include supporting and training our staff in any AAC needs that our individuals might have. This is a wonderful resource.You have written it in a way that is clear and easy to understand. I particularly like that you recommend using the device yourself first. May I please share it with our staff when I am training them?