AAC Considerations and the Stages Framework
By Madalaine Pugliese, Stages author
The Stages Framework is based on a balance between what research tells us about both cognitive and language development and is designed to help us best understand when and how to introduce assistive technology tools and strategies in the learning process. Consideration of how and when to introduce AAC is a key piece of the research. Here is a modified excerpt from the book containing the research as it applies to language acquisition from a developmental perspective.
Also attached is an observable checklist that will help to identify a learner’s current functional Stage.
What follows is a brief overview of communication implementation recommendations for each Stage.
Establish reliable cause and effect behavior for learning. Without this behavior it is not advised to expect interaction centered around meaningful communication.
A learner’s ability to work attentively in a receptive vocabulary environment, to comprehend language, and to process information provides us with information that helps us make decisions about communication skills development. Before we can expect a learner to communicate effectively, he must be exposed to and understand words and symbols. Once he understands a word or symbol, then he can apply it, or use it to express himself at a later Stage.
For years it has been understood that exposing learners to all forms of emerging literacy that are meaningful promotes language acquisition. This is the time to introduce a single message device labeled with one photo, drawing or symbol. With a light-tech device placed in physical context with an activity such as this, the learner can activate simple prerecorded messages with the press of a button even without intent. As the learner receives reinforcement for an unintentional press of the device, he can learn the connection toward intentionality.
Language is representative of real objects and actions. Pictures or symbols in isolation carry limited meaning. Therefore, activities to extend understanding are important. We want learners to understand that the object is the same in a photograph, in a representational drawing, and in real life. Is an apple always red? No! We have to provide opportunities for learners to develop an understanding of the nuances in the ways that words and symbols can work. First, make sure that the learner understands the real object. Next, pair that real object with a photograph. Then pair that photograph with a drawing, and finally, if appropriate for your learner, with the symbol.
Stage Three is a time to help learners begin to use more complex language as they learn to communicate choices for the first time. Introduce a light-tech, multiple message communication device at this time. These devices offer a few buttons that are used to deliver simple prerecorded messages, typically centered on a specific theme.
Now is the time to work on expressive vocabulary and expanding concepts. Object and action identification is simply matching an object or action to its spoken name (for example, “Find the cat” or “Which one flies?”). Category identification enables the learner to demonstrate an understanding of language by categorizing or identifying objects that belong to the same group (for example, an apple is a type of food).
Child development research points to the need for a good balance between academic study and social development. Social and academic development goes hand-in-hand in Stage Four. It is important to provide opportunities for social interactions and play at this Stage. Many child development specialists believe that if there is a barrier to working in small groups, interacting in fine and gross motor activities, engaging in pretend play, sharing materials or communicating, then there is a potential roadblock for cognitive and further language development.
Help learners find opportunities to use a communication device in fun and motivating ways. Single message devices, which speak prerecorded text, can initiate successful communication. For example, use the device to tell a joke, contribute to “Show and Tell,” deliver messages and, as in the example above, participate in activities with repetitive lines in stories or songs. These activities will help the learner develop appropriate timing skills as he uses the device.
This is the Stage where a learner’s vocabulary use quickly expands. Prepare for rapid assimilation of new phrases that are context-related in more advanced learning areas. As learners are exposed to advanced concepts, they will incorporate new vocabulary and content words into their written and spoken communication methods.
Before increasing the difficulty or complexity of the content, be certain that the access device, custom settings and other accommodations are appropriate. Also make sure that the learner can use the access device proficiently. Content is almost impossible for a learner to address if the process for the interaction is distracting, unreliable or uncomfortable.
If the learner has been using a communication device or symbols, now is the time to introduce a dynamic display device. This type of high-tech device features a computer-based display that changes based on the learner’s input. For example, the question “What would you like for lunch today?” might lead to additional choices. Once the learner says she would like a hot dog, which condiments would she enjoy?
A learner able to understand the concept of a dynamic language needs a more sophisticated device.
Just as we’ve established a pattern for developing language and academic skills, the same considerations are needed for selecting communication devices. At Stage Two we introduced a single message light-tech device because it was developmentally appropriate for the language use of the learner at that time. At Stage Three we introduced a multiple target light-tech device because this was the first time that a learner would apply choice making in the communication process. The use of this light-tech device should continue until the learner is using the more complex language described here for Stage Five. At this time a dynamic high-tech device is appropriate to consider.
Please see the attached Observable Characteristics Checklist.
Madalaine Pugliese, Stages author
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