Students with communication impairments may not be able to meet their communication needs with their natural voices and tones. This issue causes them a lot of troubles in their social interactions with other people. However, they can be aided to cope with this problem in the society.
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They are thus recommended to use special argumentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, which can vary depending on the skills and the needs of each student, in order to compensate for the natural communication. Supporting social competence in children who use augmentative and alternative communication is very important.
Though AAC systems provide them with a way to communicate, the children who use them face several challenges, especially, in social communication. They experience feelings of isolation as it is difficult for them to make friends with other children, maintain friendship, start profitable conversations, and not to create a negative image of themselves among the others.
Teachers should, therefore, know that children who use AAC systems communicate differently from the others who use natural vocals. They are known to be passive, communicate for limited purposes, and use less developed linguistic forms.
Due to the children’s needs and challenges, they are more likely to communicate to teachers and other skilled professionals who are able to meet their demands as opposed to same age peers which render classroom goals unachieved. To aid this, certain modification techniques are to be used to improve peer interaction among children using AAC systems. These include modifying the environment, collateral skills intervention, child-specific intervention, peer-mediated intervention, and comprehensive interventions.
Multimodal communication is the use of different modes of communication like facial expression and gestures. When students come to get a better understanding of multimodal communications skills, they are able to better understand their AAC fellows and improve their interaction levels. These skills can be embedded in established lessons, such as student theatres or pretence plays. Other activities can comprise:
- Watching a video of someone speaking in another language and try to determine meaning through nonverbal modes of communication.
- Observe people talking and document forms of communication (for example, gestures, natural speech, sign language, speech-generating AAC, pictures, eyes, gaze, body language, facial expression, and spelling board).
Equipping students with prior knowledge of AAC systems is also a classroom implementation of high level communication among AAC systems’ users and other students. Although AAC is tough, the basic knowledge can easily be taught to children through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) framework.
Children can be shown photographs to tell them that such tools can also be used to represent ideas. Inviting an AAC company representative (for example, DynaVox, Prentke Romich Company) to talk to the class about different types of AAC can also be a great activity to help implement the program. Other methods and activities can be:
- Developing a photo-album or scrapbook with pictures from AAC company catalogs or from Google Images.
- Asking a child who uses AAC to do a class demonstration about his or her particular device.
- Providing hands-on experiences with a variety of AAC systems;
- Contacting AAC company’s representative, state lending libraries, or local universities for access systems.
Helping students in classroom to understand the limitations as well as the barriers of AAC systems assists the children using these systems to feel more comfortable in the classroom as their peers may become more supportive and patient with them.
Since students who do not use these systems cannot experience the difficulties of their counterparts, increasing their awareness about such systems will help them understand and accept the ways student who use AAC systems communicate in classrooms settings. For example, teachers could incorporate some activities that illustrate the difficulties and frustrations that students who use AAC systems face. The teacher can also implement the following activities:
- Instruct the students to write or draw pictures of everything they want to say; discuss how they might change their messages, choose not to talk, or write something very simple because of their difficulty with writing.
- Have a “no-talk” class period in which students are to express comments and ask questions through nonverbal communication; discuss difficulties and challenges of such way of communication.
A key component to the success of AAC communication is training of the peers whom AAC users communicate to. Interaction strategies are needed to be taught to other classroom members so they would be able to have longer wait time to respond to AAC users. Additionally, teaching partners to respond to all attempts at communication, asking open-ended questions, and using aided modeling (for example, communication partner models’ use of the AAC system) will all positively affect communication interactions.
There are an increasing number of students who are being trained in inclusive environments for all or part of the school day. This is a part of the struggle to support social competence. In addition to academic interventions, facilitating social interactions to promote social competence in children who have disabilities should be present in every classroom curriculum.
The necessity of implementing interaction strategies is especially important for those students with communication impairments in the classrooms who experience challenges in the use of AAC systems.