THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE is recognised as one of the most influential books ever written. You can purchase this book through our affiliate The Book Depository by clicking the button below. Last week, we talked about two key strategies for teaching core language: using aided language input and creating frequent opportunities to teach and elicit core words. Creating frequent opportunities for teaching core words is another ‘must.’ How many is enough?
Jess is a little boy with autism who is learning to use picture-based communication apps, low tech SGDs, a daily schedule, and many other visual supports. Another thing that we can do to help people learn and use core words is to have those words be located in a consistent location on the various communication tools.
It makes sense that when things stay in the same place, it’s easier to find them when you need them.
In last week’s post, we selected 12 core words that might be a good starting point for some learners. Next week, we’ll be sharing the communication boards we made to go along with the 12, 24, and 36 words we selected for this series of posts.
PrAACtical AAC supports a community of professionals and families who are determined to improve the communication and literacy abilities of people with significant communication difficulties.
In today’s post, we’ll expand the number of words and discuss two additional considerations for teaching core words. It exposes them to their new means of communication, provides them with a competent model of their AAC system, and introduces them to words and symbols they don’t yet know within a meaningful context. Once he learns that “Symbol X’ means a particular thing, he seems to quickly recognize it across the different communication and learning tools. Today, we’re adding 12 more just to give an example of how we might move forward in our semantic instruction. In the meantime, if you need some examples of how professionals are providing core vocabulary, here are some you may want to check out.

It was founded in 2011 by two SLP professors, Carole Zangari and the late Robin Parker, around a shared passion for AAC. It also forces us to slow down when talking, something that can be very beneficial when you consider that many beginning users of AAC also have difficulty processing oral language. He isn’t yet independent in using that symbol for communication purposes, but he doesn’t have any difficulty finding it. Whether I’m on my personal laptop, desktop, iPad, office computer, or even smartphone, I know exactly where to look for the letters C-A-R-O-L-E. When it comes time to add more words, we either have to move those words around or violate the organizational schema we started. In the communication boards shown here, from the TELL ME Curriculum that I did with Lori Wise, we started with a full version of the communication board, knowing that was where we wanted to ‘end up’ a few months down the line. Some AAC learners seem to look at a symbol for a word they’ve learned and recall it without much effort.
If the letters were in different places on each keyboard, two things would probably happen: typing speed would decline and the number of errors would increase. Others, however, benefit from explicit instruction focusing on why a particular symbol means a certain thing.
If we move things around to accommodate the new words, kids have to unlearn what we just taught them.
No matter which 24 core words you choose to teach in the first few weeks, the result is the same: The words that the learner acquires can be used throughout the day in a wide variety of activities and environments. It’s laying a foundation so that they will ultimately be able to say what they want at any point in time. We talked about activities designed to teach the meaning of the symbols in a post earlier this week. This accommodated the children’s need to start with a relatively simple board, and maximized learning efficiency by expanding the board in a way that made sense. Another thing to note about aided language input: It sends a message to the learner that using this AAC tool is important.

Or the new verbs that we added are in with the prepositions because there wasn’t anymore room in the verb columns. Simple games (which we prefer to ‘tasks’) that have been adapted to provide practice on core words can work well for some learners. Sure, they can find them if they look long enough, but it’s just not an efficient approach to learning. Our actions speak, and using aided language input is one way to show beginning AAC learners just how much we believe in the tools we have given them. They need to use them in daily routines, specific teaching activities, group experiences, and in conversation. Special versions of games like Lotto, Bingo, Twister, and Guess Who can give us opportunities to provide practice recognizing and retrieving core words and build game-playing skills at the same time.
How would YOU like to have to adjust to having letters in different places every time you sat down at a different keyboard? They need to use them in therapy, and in real life situations at home, in school, and in the community. We can adapt bean bags and beach balls with core words and have fun saying them as we catch or toss. If it would be challenging for us, then it’s not something we’d want to inflict on our AAC learners. We’ll talk more about that next week, but the main idea is that we don’t wait for them to be independent.

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