AAC Voices Groups: A History
AAC Voices started as Angel Voices in 2014, a group for young children with Angelman Syndrome who were learning to commmunicate using Alternative and Augmentative Communication or AAC. Originally held in families living rooms we moved location three times that first year and had to split into two groups to accommodate all of those who wanted to attend. At the same time Kate Ahern's private practice providing educational services for AAC users with complex needs and presenting keynote addresses and workshops was growing.
For the 2015-2016 school year AAC Voices expanded again to offer groups for individuals with Rett Syndrome and related disorders and a general, open group for all children learning to use robust AAC systems. We moved to a location in Chelmford, MA.
In 2016-2017 AAC Voices relocated to the YMCA in Andover, MA and currently run three groups approximately every three weeks. Cost has remained at $25 per family/per day all of this time. AAC Voices and Kate's private practice also merged to be under one umbrella - AAC Voices providing Communication, Literacy and Life Skills interventions for children and adults with complex communication needs individually and in groups, as well as parent and professional lectures, training and workshops.
Groups are designed so that parents act as communication partners and assistants during the session, providing support and modeling of the communication system. Groups generally include singing/music, a story and a related activity (usually a craft or game) and a writing activity. The focus is on providing emergent to independent communicators with opportunities to use their AAC systems during motivating activities while offering a chance to meet other children who also communicate through AAC. Siblings are welcome and included.
Parents report that their children enjoy group and look forward to attending. Many children have shown growth in groups including increased appropriate behavior and attention. Friendships between group members have blossomed with individuals contacting each other outside of group sessions.
Individual education sessions typically happen in the family's home and focus on communication, literacy and/or life skills using a positive, child centered, strength based approach. The philosophy of Motive, Model, Move out of the Way is used to ensure children are engaged, aided language stimulation is constant and the focus is on the child moving towards autonomy and independence. Attention to underlying issues such as anxiety as it connects to apraxia, learning and behavior allows the individual to grow while connected in a secure and safe relationship. Parents, siblings and extended family may be involved to encourage communication, literacy and life skills as a family endeavor that carries over between sessions.