Laura answers your AAC questions!
by McKenzie Lee, M.S., CCC-SLP
Laura with one of her AAC users!
Laura Egan, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a long-time speech-language pathologist with Kidspeak Ltd. who is passionate about her work – especially when it comes to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)! Today she provides us with some of her insight into the world of AAC.
McKenzie: Tell us about your background as a speech-language pathologist.
Laura: I have worked most of my career (16 years) as an educational speech-language pathologist (SLP) at the elementary level. In the schools, my caseload consists of a wide variety of disabilities and needs. I have students who are working on articulation, expressive and receptive language, fluency and AAC skills. I have been working part time for Kidspeak since 2010. Through Kidspeak, my focus has been primarily on clients using AAC, however during the summer I add a variety of clients to my caseload.
How did you become passionate about AAC? What inspired you?
During one of my first jobs as an SLP, I worked with severely and multiply impaired students in an elementary school center-based program. I had never had a class on AAC and really no experience working with students who had such complex disabilities. This was on the job training and I LOVED IT! I was mentored by a fantastic augmentative communication specialist who helped me understand a variety of devices, switches, low tech options, etc. As I started using the various forms of AAC with my students, I could see their excitement in being able to communicate more, even in the smallest ways! I enjoy personalizing each student’s AAC tools and finding ways to get them interested in communicating…it’s like solving a puzzle!
What is your favorite activity to target AAC?
I love to play games and do noisey puzzles! It’s a great way to use AAC for social interactions (turn taking) as well as making requests for a puzzle piece, commenting on what they see or hear, or telling what color card they drew in a game! These types of activities hit all the goals and are really fun!
Can you share a fun memory you have while targeting AAC?
I have had the pleasure of setting up a device for a low mobility/non-verbal client as she made her way through her teen years. It was fun to put phrases in her device that a typical teen would say (i.e., “I’m kinda bored” or “Get it together!”) and then see her eyes light up or hear her laughter as she said these phrases to her favorite people. You could tell she found so much joy in communicating with others in a way other than just using facial expressions and eye gaze.
What are some words of wisdom you would share with a parent that is just learning about AAC or considering it for their child?
Many parents are worried that the use of symbols, sign, visuals, or a voice output device will take the place of their child’s voice. Your child will use their voice first, if possible, but these aids are proven by research to only enhance and help develop oral language skills, even for verbal children! Don’t believe the myth that it is a crutch – it is so beneficial!
What is one piece of advice that you would give to parents?
Be sure to involve the whole family with getting to know whatever it is that your child is using for AAC and interact with it daily, even if it’s just starting with one small designated time of the day. It can be fun and functional!
Anything else you want to share about AAC?
Don’t be afraid to try new things – you can’t mess anything up! It can open up a whole new world of communication!