Monday, January 19, 2015

If You Give An AAC User A Large Vocabulary . . .

A few weeks ago, Maya accurately (and surprisingly) used the word "cubicle" during speech therapy. There was a character hiding in a poster, and the expectation was that she would say "behind the desk" . . . but instead she said (via Mini, her talker) "behind cubicle." It seemed too specific to be accidental (she has several thousand words in her device, and she picked cubicle) . . . but no one could remember even teaching her the word cubicle. Some probing the next day revealed that, oh yes, it was a deliberate selection (that story is here).

When a 6 year old who can't speak correctly uses the word cubicle, adults pay attention. When an AAC user uses sophisticated, appropriate vocabulary, it is a strong reminder that not being able to speak isn't indicative of decreased cognitive functioning. Sometimes, the best way that we can help the AAC users in our lives (whether they are your family members or children on your caseload) advocate for themselves is to make sure that they have a robust, colorful, extensive vocabulary. And there are at least three important reasons for this, as far as I can tell:

1. It's more motivating to use exciting words. Maya wasn't motivated to talk about which items were big and which were small when presented with a field of items . . . but she was interested in jumping in when we added giant, huge, enormous, tiny, and some others.

2.  A large vocabulary provides the user with a better likelihood of being able to say exactly what they want to say. A young AAC user could see a school bus drive by and think "That bus shines like the golden sun, roars like a lion, and speeds by like a racecar" . . . but without a large vocabulary, he may only be able to say "Bus yellow loud fast." (And honestly, I'm not sure I would even try to share my complicated thoughts if I could only produce "bus yellow loud fast.")

3. As mentioned above, communication partners are influenced by what they hear. If an AAC user is relegated to only using simple words, then their thoughts sound simple, no matter how amazing they might actually be. If teachers, therapists, and family are only hearing simple words, there is a subconscious lowering of the bar. A child who can say gigantic instead of big sounds like someone who needs more words, more opportunities, more conversation.

It's a cycle, right?

If an AAC user is given a lot of words, they can use a lot of words, which causes others to raise their expectations and presume competence . . . and then those communication partners will program more words.

The more I thought about this cycle, the more it felt exactly like one of those "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" children's books . . . so I made an AAC themed book that follows that pattern. 

If you're interested in printing and sharing, it can be downloaded here.

(click to enlarge pictures)

For another great story about presuming competence and programming exciting words, check this out.

If you're interested in thesaurus style printable books to teach some interesting synonyms, this blogger has created some (one is free, the rest are for sale). If you have time to create some of your own, all you need is some time with and some clipart. (And if you do that, please email them to me! Not kidding.)