Implementing AAC: A Step-by-Step Process

by Nicole Wingate, Speech-Language Pathologist at Bluffton Harrison Elementary School in Bluffton, IN and Angela Sheets

Where We Started

It was just a few years ago when I found myself feeling hopeless as an SLP. There were students on my caseload with virtually no functional means to communicate. With ever changing technology and the development of AAC apps, I became overwhelmed! Where do I start and what do I recommend? I mean some of these AAC apps are expensive not to mention the price tag of a speech generating device. The feeling of guilt started settling in. I could not just stand by and do nothing! So I created this step-by-step process of AAC implementation within Bluffton Harrison Elementary School.

Step 1: Make it your professional goal.

Yes, I actually wrote it out on paper and discussed it with my principal!.” I find that if you actually write it out and have someone you’re accountable to the chances of you reaching your goal increases.

  • 2015-16: “Work collaboratively with other special ed team members to learn and implement AAC for specific students."
  • 2016-17: “Work collaboratively with other special ed team members to learn and implement AAC for specific students and fine tune Core Language Group."
  • 2017-18: “Work to develop a process for AAC evaluations at BHES.
  • 2018-19: “Create and implement AAC language lessons beyond Core Vocabulary” and “BREATHE and enjoy the accomplishments."

Each year I added another layer to my professional goal in AAC. While oftentimes this feels like a race, it really is a journey. I would like to go back in time and “re-do”. However, I can only move forward from here.

Step 2: Figure out what you don’t know.

We attended our state conference for assistive technology. We soaked in all that we could and asked questions of other colleagues from around the state. LAMP Words for Life kept coming up in conversations of success stories.

Step 3: We were able to gain permission from my administration to host a LAMP training at our school.

This was HUGE! Three of our students were able to participate. Not only did other colleagues get to attend but the families of our students as well. This was the beginning to building an AAC community within our school building.

Step 4: Borrow, borrow, borrow!

We borrowed as many devices as we could from our state lending library, Easter Seals and vendors over and over again. Being able to trial devices with our students has been so beneficial.

Step 5: My colleagues and I decided to implement a Core Word of the Week.

On Mondays we push into the intense interventions classroom. We have ALL hands on deck! We teach the core word and record data. The same core word is carried out all week long.

Step 6: Get your general education teachers involved!

We have begun making Core Word of the Week videos. Any staff member or student is able to participate in helping make the video. And boy do we have FUN! We have a bloopers video that we will be sharing with staff at the end of the school year. Our related arts teachers, along with some of our other general education teachers post the Core Word of the Week with the picture symbol sequence from LAMP Words for Life outside their classroom door. Along with the Core Word of the Week is a QR code that leads to the video.

  • You can find our videos on YouTube under the channel WingsWorks

Step 7: Invite administrators into your classroom.

We invite them in during activities and special events to see our successes as well as our students’ needs. At Thanksgiving, we invited administrators and other staff in for a feast that the students made. All of the food was labeled with LAMP Words for Life picture symbols as well as iPads for them to find the sequence themselves.

Step 8: Communicate with your parents.

We send our parents videos of the students using their AAC often. Parents also have access to our Core Word of the Week and the link to the video.

Step 9: Educate.

We have had mini AAC lessons for staff members after school. Make it short and sweet, like 15 minutes. We have also educated the other students in the building on AAC during disability awareness month. This helps foster the social language piece for our students in their general education class. I compare AAC to glasses for eyes, hearing aids for ears, braces for teeth. It makes it easier for the students to understand.

Step 10: Make it fun!

We did trick-or-treating around the building and the students got to say trick-or-treat with their devices or LAMP on their iPad. For some this was the first time they have ever said “trick-or-treat!"

Step 11: CELEBRATE!

By doing each of these 10 small somethings, you have accumulated a large, lasting impact. Celebrate with your staff, celebrate with your students, celebrate with your parents and celebrate with your community. Share your journey. The power of communication changes lives one word at a time!

Step 12: Keep On Keeping On!

From all of this, our school district was able to host a second LAMP training: Moving Forward. From this training, we learned more in depth ways to incorporate AAC into the curriculum as well as making modifications to the LAMP display for student specific needs.

We are now happy to report that Bluffton-Harrison MSD is a LAMP Center for Excellence and Angela Sheets and I are both LAMP Certified Professionals. Because we took a chance and stepped outside of our comfort zone our students now have a means to communicate and access curriculum.

With that being said, Angie and I have also felt compelled to inspire other professionals and educators to do the same. We have been given opportunities to share our success locally and nationally. By doing so, we have been able to gain even more knowledge in the field of aac and assistive technology. In return, our students benefit from this gained knowledge.

After a couple of years of implementing LAMP Words for Life and presenting, we decided to birth Speak UP, LLC. We are two women educators who presumed potential in our students and experienced astronomical changes. It is our passion to empower others to do the same. Every person has the right to communicate and learn!

We specialize in consulting and training on augmentative alternative communication and assistive technology, focusing practice on special education, general education, family interventions, community supports and private therapies.

We would love the opportunity to provide an extreme classroom makeover where others learn to presume potential, are provided with the tangible tools, strategies for implementation, and ongoing support for students’ life long success!

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