I finished ESY last week during which I worked with a number of children who were new to me and came to school with a variety of low-tech AAC systems. First of all, I'm very happy this year that the kids had systems. In past ESY sessions, often I had to make communication notebooks from scratch, instantly. This year, every child had something, ranging from PECS, to a core board, to a more complicated notebook. Core has been emphasized across the district this year, and it's reflected in what the kids brought.
Having a wide variety of little systems, though, gave me pause on what are the components needed to really make even a low tech system work well for a child. Many of the notebooks the children had were ineffective. Some notebooks had only random photos of toys or activities which the child really didn't want. Some systems only presented core vocabulary (also not reinforcing at the moment to the child). Some systems were difficult to model and had hundreds of itty bitty pictures. Some children didn't seem to have underlying cognitive foundations of communication such as joint attention, communicative intent, object permanence. Again, I'm very happy the children had something, and the teachers and I really attempted to incorporate use of the existing systems into the activities.
Five weeks is a long time to ponder about these difficulties, so I came up with 'bricks and mortar' analogy for effective development of a dynamic system (either low or high tech). Explanations are below:
FOUNDATIONS OF COMMUNICATION: Every house cannot stand without a solid foundation. AAC users often need to also work on basic intent, joint attention, functional object use, tracking if possible.
FRINGE VOCABULARY: These are the bricks. I found that fringe is vital because these are the real things in a child's life. People, toys, food, places---this is what they wanted to talk about.
CORE VOCABULARY: This is the cement that holds everything together, and enables language expansion and development. The house/wall can be simple or intricate, small or large. As a child's language expands, so does the house.
POWER: This is vital to the house. A child has to be shown the power of communication.
PRAGMATICS: This involves people. Without people in the house, there's no purpose.
CONTEXT/ENVIRONMENT: This all goes back to the house, which represents wherever the child is.
This may be simplistic, but all of these components are necessary for a child to effectively learn to communicate using AAC. I'm welcome to ideas to improve this.
A good system with all the components can help a plain brick house become an awesome brick cathedral.
And now, I want to say that I'm going on vacation to Vancouver, BC. I'll be posting pictures!