AAC Implementation

Fostering Communication Habits: A Guide for Special Education Teachers and Families

Vicki Clarke
November 8, 2023

Fostering Communication Habits: A Guide for Special Education Teachers and Families

Vicki Clarke
November 8, 2023

In the world of special education, communication is at the core of a child’s development and growth. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems are invaluable tools for children with communication challenges. To harness the full potential of these systems, it’s crucial for both special education teachers and families to develop a habit of using the child’s AAC device to model natural communication in their daily routines. In this blog post, we will explore the challenges of habit formation, plan for modeling during daily routines, and discuss the use of naturally occurring triggers as cues to reinforce AAC device use.

The Science of Habits

To understand how to develop a habit of using AAC systems, we can turn to the research of Katy Milkman, a behavioral scientist. Milkman’s work highlights three essential components for habit formation: repetition, consistency, and a trigger.

  1. Repetition: Consistently practicing an action is the first step in developing a habit. In the case of AAC modeling, it’s crucial to make it a regular part of your daily interactions with the child.
  2. Consistency: Habits are built through consistency. Ensure that modeling using the AAC system is integrated into the child’s daily routine. Consistency creates an expectation of use for both the child and the communicative partner.
  3. Triggers: Triggers are cues that remind us to perform a habit. In the context of AAC modeling, identifying naturally occurring triggers can help integrate AAC device use seamlessly into daily routines.

Planning for Modeling in Daily Routines

Developing a habit of AAC modeling requires strategic planning. Here’s how to incorporate it into daily routines effectively:

  1. Identify Key Daily Routines: Recognize daily routines that offer natural opportunities for communication, such as mealtime, playtime, or bedtime.
  2. Set Goals: Define clear goals for modeling within these routines. For example, during mealtimes, the goal might be to model the use of specific words related to food and eating.
  3. Create Visual Reminders: Use visual cues or reminders to prompt AAC device use. You might place the AAC device on the dining table during meals, or near the child’s favorite toys during playtime.
  4. Make It Fun: Incorporate modeling into enjoyable activities. Children are more likely to engage when they associate AAC use with positive experiences.

Using Naturally Occurring Triggers

Naturally occurring triggers can be powerful in reinforcing AAC device use:

  1. Mealtime: The act of setting the table or sitting down to eat can serve as a cue for AAC modeling. Discuss food choices, preferences, or share a story while the child eats.
  2. Playtime: When the child picks up a toy or game, it’s an ideal moment to use the AAC system to label the object or describe what they want to play.
  3. Bedtime: As part of the bedtime routine, you can model calming words or phrases on the AAC device to help the child wind down.
  4. Outings: Going to the park, store, or any outing can be a cue to use the AAC system. Talk about what you see, what you plan to do, or how the child is feeling.

Final Thoughts

Developing a habit of using the child’s AAC system for natural communication in daily routines is challenging, but the quick payoff is a child who daily quickly begins to use the words and messages they are hearing (and seeing!) you say. By understanding the science of habits, planning for modeling during daily activities, and utilizing naturally occurring triggers, special education teachers and families can empower children to express themselves effectively. The consistent, supportive use of AAC systems can foster lifelong communication skills and enrich the lives of children with special needs. Together, let’s build these essential habits to help children with communication challenges thrive.

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