I Meant to Model Today: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Implementation Intentions

Jess looking at me with high expectations of a good alternative to live theater.

It happens to the best of us. You have every intention of using some amazing and advanced aided language input. You imagine this wonderful interaction between you and a captive augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) user, soaking in the model of expressive language you fluently provide. But the day passes, and before you drift off to sleep, you realize that it didn’t happen. Life is busy. You got interrupted. Or maybe you were just having fun and enjoying the moments with your child. Whatever the reason, modeling intentions get pushed to the next day. You close your eyes and think, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Here’s the thing…tomorrow is going to be busy too. You’re going to get interrupted. And hopefully, you’re going to spend some time in everyday moments having fun and enjoying your child or student. What if the research about implementation intentions could make your aided language input intentions a more consistent reality?

As a field, professionals and researchers generally agree that aided language input is a crucial strategy in AAC implementation. Let’s see if we can use research in another area and apply it to increase the aided language input we provide!

I Meant to Model, but…

I recently spent some time hanging out with Jess, who you may know from her mom’s blog, You Don’t Say AAC. Jess is a twenty-five year old young woman who has Angelman Syndrome and uses Speak for Yourself. We had a fun day planned that was packed with her decisions. She initially wanted Burger King, but as we were driving, she decided on lobster for lunch. Sure! Ice cream? Why not?! Dried apples from the orchard market. Of course! (I had to veto Mamma Mia and Les Miserables because they weren’t playing near us.) She settled for Beauty and the Beast at the movie theater. Here’s a video of that conversation:

I intended to load her vocabulary data setting on my iPad and spend some focused time using aided language input, but two things happened. First, I picked her up in a whirlwind of excitement and ended up in the car without a wifi connection. Second, she was so talkative throughout the day that I didn’t feel like there was a good opportunity to take her device, connect it to my hot spot, and then email her user vocabulary to myself. I didn’t do it.

I modeled on her device while we sat in the car outside of the restaurant. We talked about what we could do in the hour between lunch and the movie. I modeled in the restaurant when we were figuring out the choice of sides. When her device battery died, I pulled out my iPad and modeled on the unpersonalized vocabulary in my app before handing it to Jess to use. But when the day ended, I thought, “I meant to model today.”

Implementation Intention Research

My modeling “failure” reminded me of something I had heard about research on implementation intentions. I had saved the research article, which talked about exercise. Part of the reason I saved this article was because it made me think of using the strategy in the article for implementing aided language input.

The researchers randomly divided people into 3 groups. The control group was asked how often they exercised. The second group (“motivated group”) was asked how often they exercised and also given motivational materials about the benefits of exercising. The third group was given the motivational materials and also asked to fill out a form with the “when, where, and how” of their exercise plan. After two weeks, the researchers found that there was not much difference between the control group (38% engaged in exercise) and the “motivated” (35% engaged in exercise) group. However, the third group with the clear intention plan, had 91% of the participants follow through on their exercise plan. This is not the only research about implementation intentions. This research supports an already strong body of evidence in this area.

I Tried It For This Blog Post

My MacBook screen with two sticky notes. The first (orange note) reads: “I will write uninterrupted on Thursday (4/20) from 9-11 am in the shedquarters.
The second (blue note) reads: “If I am interrupted, I’ll add that time after 11.”

…and it worked! I’ve been thinking about this blog post for at least a few weeks. I keep intending to write it and then something else takes my attention. Today, I made it a priority. I wrote it down and made a commitment to devote a couple of hours to actually doing it. And I did.

What’s the Possible Implication for AAC?

I don’t know, but let’s find out! May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM), and the theme this year is Communication: The Key to Connection. We’d like to do a little research about modeling AAC using motivation and planned implementations. It will be a better experiment with your help!

Here’s what I’m asking of you: Give AAC modeling a place to live within your day. Carve out the time to show your child/student(s) that communication is a priority. Put it in your schedule. We’re asking you to plan to communicate and connect with your student(s)/child(ten) who are using AAC. If you’re already doing that, that’s wonderful!

The second thing we’re asking is that you keep track for 2 weeks and complete a brief survey letting us know if it worked or not! Once you complete the survey, you’ll get a free t-shirt for your time! I’ll post a blog with all of the links and details on Friday April 28th, 2017, and we’ll officially get started on May 1st!

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