The Aftermath: Emergent Literacy in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Avery sitting in a waiting room with books spread out in front of her and a baby doll by her side.

Just over two months ago, I walked into Avery’s house with an armful of books. I boldly told her and her mom that we were going to work on reading and writing. Avery had just turned four, and her mom unflinchingly said, “Sounds good to me.” Avery gasped with excitement as if I’d walked in with a new puppy or a bushel of balloons. We had been doing a lot of shared reading, but I had a fresh plan for literacy. Avery was completely on board.

I returned from the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference with renewed excitement. It is the kind of enthusiasm we hope to gain from professional development experiences. I attended a session called Using Core Vocabulary in Emergent Literacy Instructional Routines presented by the Project Core team. It resonated with me. I appreciated the framework for targeting and encouraging emergent literacy for users of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Their plan put the responsibility on the instructor rather than the student. It also fit well with the Speak for Yourself AAC app.

That hour and a half session inspired a six part series of blog posts addressing literacy using AAC and Project Core.

In case you missed it…

For those of you who have busy lives and haven’t been able to follow along every week, I thought it might be beneficial to round up links to all of the posts. So here they are:

Using Speak for Yourself with Project Core Non-Instructional Routines 

Shared Reading: Using AAC With Project Core

“I like” Predictable Chart Writing: Using AAC and Project Core

Independent Writing: Using AAC and Project Core 

Alphabet and Phonological Awareness: Using AAC and Project Core

Independent Reading: Using AAC and Project Core

I read a lot of research, but not just for the sake of reading it. The value of research is in the application of it. When I read research in any field, I think how does this apply to my life?, which generally ends up translating to how does this apply to AAC? So when there’s a framework that really smart researchers take the time to establish, it makes sense to listen.   It makes sense to try it.

The Aftermath

As clinicians, we know that what works for one child may not work for another. Even if it’s been researched. But what I will say about these emergent literacy strategies is that they were not difficult to try. They didn’t take long. And most importantly, they generalized seamlessly. It does help that Avery was already interested in books when we started. It helps that as soon as her occupational therapist knew about it, she jumped in with writing activities too. It also helps that her home is a “book rich” environment. However, none of those things are pre-requisites for literacy to emerge. You can start with one small act. Put books in your environment. Start reading out loud to your students using AAC. Model some of the words on their device. Like so many things, it starts with a first step.

Sometimes we implement things and we don’t get to know if they “worked” immediately. We don’t always get instant results and as clinicians we accept that. Our work is for the long term. But sometimes, we’re fortunate to see the impact right away. Avery’s mom texted me the picture in the beginning of this post and a short video last week (and graciously gave permission to share them). She had a doctor’s appointment, in an office full of toys (which she also used), but guess how Avery decided to spend her time…better yet, she can tell you herself! (Listen to her use of core vocabulary!)


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