Communication methods

  • Overview

    To support their communication, students with communication support needs require:

    1. A functional means to communicate/a functional communication system (also known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC)
    2. Teachers and aides who are trained in using the student’s communication system
    3. Teachers and aides who train, prompt, and allow sufficient time for, a student to use their communication system in a variety of contexts (eg requesting, responding, peer to peer interaction)
    4. Opportunities to communicate with classmates and peers
    5. Arrangements in place to expand the vocabulary and topical materials contained in the student’s communication system as required
    6. A communication plan (forming part of the student’s Individual Learning Plan) that identifies short term and long term goals, strategies and progress measures relating to communication skills.

    Underpinning all of this is the need for the student to be supported by people who don’t have preconceived expectations about the student’s abilities or lack thereof.

    Here is a video explaining the different types of AAC:

    Independent Living Centre WA has some great suggestions for providing opportunities for students to practice using their communication system/device while interacting with peers:

    • Play games in groups that require giving and following instructions. The student using AAC get a turn to give the directions. Try ‘Simon Says’, or ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’. Program pre-stored phrases in (“It’s dinner time!”).
    • Create opportunities to interview or conduct surveys of different people in the class and school. What colour is liked the most in class? Which football team do people support? Perhaps you are doing a maths task on graphs and the students’ job could be to conduct a survey to get the information for the graph. Cook something and get feedback from the class. What did it taste like? What should we make next time? Work in pairs with the student using AAC asking the questions and a peer taking a tally.
    • Work in small groups and have the students complete a task that requires them to communicate and work together. Bake something together (What will you make? What do we have to do next?). Write a poem or a story – the student using AAC could suggest characters, places etc.
    • Perhaps once a week you spend 5 minutes having class conversation or structured news time where students share something about themselves or something they have done. This news can be pre-programmed into the device with the student before this activity or programmed at home. You could also do this as a writing task using the device to support vocabulary and sentence structure.
    • Get telling a few jokes. Perhaps before home time you spend 5 mins telling jokes as a class. The student can participate by having them pre-prepared in their device.

    “It has taken me as a parent, with intimate contact with [my child] as well as training in psychology, education and research, many years to develop a mindset which included debunking many of the things I learned or assumed about severe autism.”

    Out of my Mind” by Sharon M Draper (2010) is an engaging, easy to read book that addresses the issue of the consequences for a child of misplaced presumptions of intellectual ability/disability.

  • Communication aids/devices/systems
    • Gesture/body language;
    • Manual sign (e.g. Auslan);
    • Handwriting, typing;
    • Non-electronic visual displays for the user to point to (including photos, pictures, symbols, words/phrases, alphabet board), e.g. simple laminated cards or sheets, or more complex arrangements such as:
      • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
      • Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD)
      • Talking mats
    • Electronic visual-based tools (often with speech generating option) e.g. Compass, Grid, NovaChat;
    • Speech generating devices, whether purpose-built e.g. Lightwriter, Go Talk, or generic e.g. table device – with or without specific software such as TouchChat, Proloquo, Novachat.

    Please note: students may progress from using one system to another as their skills develop. Depending on a student’s physical and/or sensory needs or limitations, additional tools may be required to enable the student to select a picture/word/letter etc, for example, eye gaze, switch scanning, or a head pointer if they cannot use their hands.

    Here is a video showing how AAC is helping a non-verbal boy communicate:

    Here is a parent discussing how a communication system can be suitable for different needs and stages:

  • Implementing a communication system
  • Training for students and staff
  • Updating communication systems