#2 Mistake: Mateo must answer questions in school like everyone else
Lesson: Core vocabulary means providing the child with communication for life
Under the guidance of one of our school district’s SLPs, we set up his AAC device so that he could participate in school like everyone else. Or so we thought. I programmed circle time comments so that he could report on the weather and say the date. I programmed the preschool centers so that he could tell a teacher he wanted to read a book, play dress-up or do a craft during free time. I asked his teacher to tell me what books she was reading each week so that I could program some of that vocabulary in there and coached his teacher to ask him specific questions he could answer.
For the most part, the entire device was programmed with nouns. Why? Because we can get nice symbols with nouns. Do we actually use a lot of nouns in our communication? Absolutely not.
We created a responder in Mateo. He was a good one too. He learned how to navigate his device to answer the questions we asked of him, but he rarely initiated a conversation, asked a question or just interjected something on his own. That’s why core vocabulary is so important.
I had made the same mistake as many, many other parents and even SLPs. I did not program his device in such a way that he could achieve spontaneous novel utterance generation or SNUG. He could simply respond. What’s the fun in that? What’s motivating about that? How will that help him connect to his friends and family in a meaningful way? How will that get him to be independent?
AAC devices must be built around core vocabulary–words that we all use all the time every day.
We want AAC communicators to create spontaneous novel utterances. They can learn to do that if they have access to these core words, receive the right therapy and many, many opportunities to practice across all of their environments and with all the people in their lives.
Core vocabularies consist of words identified as being important for an individual to express across activities and environments. With a few words, a person can say just about anything he wants to say. Add the ability to spell words that aren’t in the core vocabulary, and you have a competent communicator who can tell it exactly like it is! Roughly:
50 words represent 40-50% of totals words communicated every day
100 words represent 60% of totals words communicated every day
200 words represent 70% of totals words communicated every day
400 words represent 80% of total words communicated every day
Mateo didn’t originally have access to these words, but he could tell his teacher if it was snowing outside. What we really wanted for him, we’d realized then, is to tell his friend next to him. “Cool! If there is no school tomorrow, wanna come over and play?” All core vocabulary words. Totally spontaneous. Who cares if he can say it’s snowing like the rest of his class? Everyone KNOWS it’s snowing.