Sunday, September 11, 2016

I may not live to see our (AAC) glory, but I will gladly join the fight.

(Originally posted on our Facebook page on 6/9/16. That post, and comments, can be seen here.)

The AAC times, they are a-changing.

I believe this.

I believe that one day SLP students will sit in (a mandatory) AAC class and learn about the history of AAC.

They will learn about prerequisite skills for AAC . . .cognition that is not too low, being attentive and 'motivated to communicate', ability to match symbols to words, solid fine motor skills, minimal to no 'negative behaviors', not too young and not too old.

They will be appropriately shocked by the notion that there were once considered to be prerequisite skills for use of a robust AAC system.

They will learn about the AAC hierarchy . . . first a child must recognize and match photos with labels, then more abstract pictures. First a child must select from a field of 2, then 4, then 6, and so on up the even-numbered-marching ladder. First a child must be able to understand categories and which items belong in each category, because how else will they find breakfast foods? First a child must successfully use no tech, then low tech, then, if mastery is demonstrated, high tech.

They will be appropriately horrified.

They will wring their hands over the children who were victims of this outdated, dangerous approach to AAC. They will somberly reflect upon the children who lived and died and understood and sat in basement classrooms with no way to say anything meaningful, the way that we currently somberly reflect upon the children with disabilities who used to be placed in institutions at birth.

They will have trouble understanding.

They will say "But we know that typical kids learn to speak by saying words and having people respond---of course nonspeakers would learn AAC the same way."

They will say "We immerse typically developing babies in speech, because they can access and produce speech . . . of course we should immerse children with language difficulties in robust AAC, because they can access and produce that type of 'speech.'"

They will be grateful for the tools at their disposal, many of which I probably can't imagine.

They will introduce and implement AAC early and often as part of a first-level treatment approach for nonspeakers. And those nonspeakers will have more rapid increases in their development of communicative intent, their ability to share their thoughts, and their rate of speech development.

I believe this.

I believe that the voices we lend to this fight accelerate the process. I believe that every time we speak publicly about presuming competence, giving all the words, using robust systems early and often, and throwing away the ridiculous hierarchy, we reach new people. And while some of these new people will brush us off as idealistic, some will join the movement. Others will think twice the next time they sit down and pull out a small set of picture cards.

There's a line in the musical Hamilton that says, "I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight." I believe that this lines directly up with our place in AAC history.

Presuming competence.

No effing prerequisite skills for robust AAC.

AAC immersion that isn't contingent upon rapid successful participation from the potential AAC user.

I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.

Fight with us.


  1. Yes AAC and Yes Hamilton! ❤️

  2. I just stumbled upon your blog through a different post, and then I found this one. You just sent chills down my spine! I am an SLP, and I'm not perfect, but I have fought for multiple children to have AAC devices I felt they could grow into and "acquire", just as a speaking child would be immersed in spoken language before they could prove competence. I had a lot of other SLPs and educators, even parents. shoot down my ideas, even when I supplied them illustrations and research to support my recommendations for a child. I felt alone. I thought maybe I was wrong, maybe too hopeful. Your words just put wind back in my sail! I have my own child who uses AAC, signing, and it has been the world to us to have a secondary way to communicate with him. We can see his little ideas, and he knows that we understand him and delight in him. It's so powerful, and I wish communication in any form for all children. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so eloquently.