Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices are varied and powerful tools that can help people with certain speech and/or language impairments communicate. But for prospective AAC device users, the thought of relying on technology can sometimes be intimidating, despite all the benefits they can provide. One of the primary concerns device users have is how others might interact with them.
AAC device etiquette doesn’t have to be overly complicated. At its core, communicating with an AAC device user is no different than communicating with a non-device user. Good communication of any kind relies on a certain set of skills such as active listening, patience, and respect. But since most people aren’t familiar with AAC device communication, it adds an element to conversations that requires distinct consideration. Whatever your relationship with a device user, consider the following AAC tips for parents, caregivers, friends, family, and more.
Do Not Touch Without Permission
Unless you are explicitly invited to interact with someone’s AAC device, don’t touch it. Respect their privacy as you would someone’s smartphone. You might run into a situation where you think you’re helping by touching their device or looking over their shoulder, but it’s best to approach the conversation as you would any other. Speak to them directly, use your typical body language, and show consideration. If your communication partner seems stuck, you can ask them if they need help and for their permission to interact with their device.
Do Be Patient
Even though AAC devices are optimized for the user to efficiently find the words and phrases they need, it’s not uncommon for the conversation’s pace to be on the slower side. While your inclination might be to speed things up by finishing their sentences for them, the appropriate action is to give them time.
Do Not Assume Lack of Intelligence
There are many reasons why one might use an AAC device. It’s important to keep in mind that speech and intelligence are not one and the same. For example, aphasia is an acquired language disorder that affects a person’s ability to process, use, and/or understand language. It doesn’t affect intelligence. Don’t feel the need to limit topics of discussion.
Do Feel Free to Clarify
Even the highest of high-tech AAC can have limitations, just as every day speech can. If you’d like something clarified to make sure you’re comprehending, you can ask. A simple method is to recap how you understood their message, and then ask whether you’re on the same page or not.
Do Not Do All the Talking
If you notice a silence in the conversation, you don’t have to immediately jump at the chance to fill it with your voice. Give the device user opportunities to initiate. Oftentimes, a non-device user will move on to another topic before the device user has had a chance to get their thoughts in. And if a device user changes a topic — even if it seems abrupt — accept that change. You can always rely on the previous tip about clarification if you’d like to ensure the topic change was purposeful.
Do Prepare an Agenda
AAC devices often have multiple ways for a device user to express themselves. Users can tap pictures or photos to voice words and phrases, or they can use a built-in text-to-speech keyboard, just to name a few methods. When given a heads-up, a device user can pre-program custom inputs to prepare for your conversation. If you know you’d like to talk to an AAC user about a specific topic ahead of time, you should let them know — and be specific! For example, saying, “By the way, when we get together next week, I’d love to talk to you about the ending of Game of Thrones,” is more helpful than saying, “Let’s talk about television.” You won’t always be able to prepare an agenda, but it’s worth the effort when you can.
Do Not Be Restrictive
Yes or no questions are an important part of communication, especially when you need clarification. But restrictive questions won’t allow for a fulfilling conversation. Instead, try using either-or questions. For example, instead of, “Would you like to go to France?” you could ask, “Would you rather travel to France or to Italy?” You can even take it a step further by using more open-ended questions, such as, “What were your favorite parts about traveling to Spain?”
These questions might not result in a rapid reply, but that’s OK! Every individual who uses AAC is just that — an individual. They will have their own wants, needs, and nuances in communicating. But if you approach the conversation armed with patience and respect, you can enjoy those conversations confidently.
Lingraphica Can Help
We help adults with speech and language impairments to reconnect with family and friends, improve communication, and live their best lives. Call us at 866-570-8775 or visit the link below to get started.