If you had asked me what I thought 2020 would look like, I definitely would not have predicted what’s going on now...and I don’t think I’m alone there. Our days are looking pretty different recently amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. It feels like almost every single thing I did on a day-to-day basis has changed in the past month. Where I go, who I see, what I do...these all look very different than they did just a month ago. I know I’m not the only one here; almost everyone in the United States and beyond has had their day-to-day lives changed because of this global pandemic. The silver lining of all this may be: using AAC devices in changing times means using AAC devices in natural contexts and for very meaningful and purposeful ways.
Individuals who use AAC devices to communicate have also experienced many changes. Maybe they do not go to school or day programs, maybe they do not go to work or participate in sports, maybe they have less visitors because of social distancing or stay-at-home regulations. This probably means that how they use their AAC devices has changed as well.
Examples of AAC device uses “pre-pandemic:”
-greet staff, teachers, peers
-interact with family, staff, teachers, peers
-participate in school classes or social groups
-request preferred food/drink options
-request preferred activities
-request places to go
-communicate about upcoming events
-interact with employees at stores, restaurants, or museums
Examples of AAC device uses “during-pandemic:”
staff, teachers, peers, caregivers, siblings
-interact with family,
staff, teachers, peers
-participate in school classes or social groups virtually
-request preferred food/drink options
-request preferred activities that remain available
-request places to go within the home
-communicate about upcoming events that have not been cancelled or postponed
interact with employees at stores, restaurants, or museums
-discuss activities done at home
-review changed schedules and routines
-discuss proper hygiene and importance of doing so
The Speech-Language Pathologists' Role
A lot has changed, but sometimes, change is good. We have both switched to providing tele-health services versus our traditional face-to-face therapy services. We spend a lot of time teaching individuals how to use their AAC devices in structured situations, but the goal is for them to be able to use their devices in more natural contexts (i.e. at home, with loved ones!). Providing tele-health services is one way to merge structured situations with natural contexts.
For example, the individuals with AAC devices may have different communication partners at home, e.g., their caregivers and/or siblings. These communication partners may also provide more insight into their interests and activities at home, whether it be the pets they have, the TV shows they watch, or the food they like to eat. Role-playing asking for a tissue or the remote from someone at home can actually be done versus just being rehearsed. We can use these opportunities to gather vocabulary that is of interest and relevant to the individuals, and incorporate that into our therapy tasks.
The Caregivers' Role
It does not have to be too complicated - using an AAC device with your loved one is not meant to be burdensome; it is meant to be something to enhance one’s life in all contexts. All AAC devices are different, but spending just a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary on there can be beneficial. You may also create a list of vocabulary that can be added to the AAC device. Encourage your loved one to use their device to make choices about the book they want to read, the show they want to watch, or the food they want to eat. Say "hello," "I love you," and "good morning." If they cannot use their device independently, you can use their device to model these interactions. Any communicative interactions are better than none!
Have you noticed a change in how your loved one is using their AAC device? Let us know by commenting below or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!