What I Learned at AAC Camp

AACcampThis past weekend we had the wonderful opportunity to attend an AAC (Augmentative Alternative Communication) Family Camp sponsored by Camp Waban and Mark Hammond Associates. Brian just recieved his communication device at the end of the school year and we were still unsure of how to incorporate it throughout our daily lives. This camp was such an eye-opener for us and has inspired us beyond what we had even imagined it could.

Here’s our top 5 takeaways from the weekend:

  1. Core words.  Core words.  Core words.  This is the second time I’ve heard Mark give us a lecture on core words and I had the same reaction as I did the first time.  It’s a light bulb moment for me.  Give Brian a picture dictionary and he could probably verbally label half of the words in it.  But you can’t have a conversation with just nouns.  And that’s what his vocabulary consists of.  A study done by Banajee found that 26 words make up 96.3% of the conversations toddlers have (and they aren’t nouns!).  Another study by Marvin lists 333 words most commonly used and it makes up 78% of the language we use.  This is what we need to focus our AAC users on.
  2. The importance of seeing others communicate with an AAC device.  Sunday morning I watched as Brian had a conversation with a 19 year old boy via their devices.  I watched as Brian really stared and focused as the other young man constructed his sentence.  It was the first time that weekend that I really saw him pay attention to another child’s device.  I like to think it was a light bulb moment for him, “Wow, this kid can communicate to me and I can communicate to him all through these devices.”  I hope to find more social situations where he will be able to be with other children using AAC devices after this experience.
  3. Just because we can understand Brian’s verbal output doesn’t mean others can.  Sometimes we get lazy because we know what Brian wants when he does talk to us.  But Brian has a dual diagnosis of autism AND apraxia.  So when he does talk it doesn’t always come out clear (not that he doesn’t have super clear moments that we just love!).  At one point this weekend I heard him say to one of the speech therapists, “Help me”.  She didn’t understand him.  For us, we always understand “Help Me” but the fact that she didn’t know and asked me what he said was another big moment for me.  Even when we understand him, we need to teach him how to also say it on his device. In the real world, when we are not around, he will need to use his talker to be understood by the everyday listener.
  4. Expanding his language.  Even when he tells us “Juice” or “iPad” we need to not take the lazy route and give him what he wants.  We need to make him go to his talker and construct a whole sentence. First it will be “I want iPad” and then we can expand it to “Can I have the iPad?” and then to “May I have the iPad please?” and so on. Because that is when he will learn those core words (refer to #1) and that is when he’ll truly start to master language.
  5. The importance of him asking us questions.  With a child like Brian, people are always asking him questions.  What do you want?  Do you want this or that?

    Loved these conversation starters that the speech therapists developed for each activity.

    What is that?  And so on and so on.  And he can answer with nouns.  Brian has so little desire to ask us questions but that is the key for him to be a conversationalist.  As Mark said at one point during the weekend, “A truly great conversationalist is someone who can keep the other person talking.”  We learned this weekend how to set up situations where Brian has to ask questions.  So last night when I asked him if he was hungry and he responded in the positive, I had him go to his talker and ask, “What’s for dinner?”.  I responded, “Pizza”.  I made him then ask, “Where is it?”.  And I said, “Dominos is bringing it” (hey, I was lazy after a long weekend).  Then I had him ask, “How much longer?”.  And so on.  It’s just a whole different way of thinking about how we want him to communicate with us.

For more pictures and great moments from our weekend, make sure to check out The A-Word’s Facebook page!


Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.