As AAC implementers there is a lot we have to know and think about and rolled into that is the hope we must have. We must believe that our students/clients/children will grow beyond where they are right now. This is what is meant by presume potential - have hope - not a static hope, but an active hope that adjusts and grows and changes. We believe that full, active, intrinsically rewarding communication is coming.
Today I taught an AAC skills class. The students and their learning coach, usually a parent, were picking an operational AAC goal to focus on for a few weeks. I mentioned in passing that working on not clearing the message bar after each word or phrase so that the user can make a fuller sentence might be a goal. Some of the learning coaches spoke up and at least three of my students automatically delete/clear each word they enter in the message window, despite knowing they need to add more words. The coaches all agreed the issue was created by intense drilling by an ABA practitioner on a goal of pressing clear. Now these AAC users will need to dedicate time and energy to unlearning this bad habit that is preventing fuller communication.
This is just one example of a skill that is taught, often drilled, into early AAC users which must be untaught as the child grows. Other examples include, introducing oneself to known people, saying hi to the same person repeatedly, and using navigational short cuts like the “eat” button to get to the food folder in TouchChat 42 and 60 Basic instead of going to groups, therefore inserting the word “eat” where it isn’t needed in a sentence. I even have one client who, as a child, was believed to overuse “I want” so the word “want” was removed from her system. Though it was added back in, she still, years later, never says “want”.
This is the opposite of the most common issue, which is an instructional focus on manding (requesting) and labeling (tacting) to the exclusion of all other functions of language. AAC users miss out on the natural development of multiple functions of language at once when they are provided only with the means to request and/or request and label. This makes their conversations stilted and deprives them of the social closeness which comes from communicating for other purposes. Therefore we again have to reteach a skill that could and should have been taught correctly in the first place.
When we are choosing AAC skills to work on we must think about if and how that skill will be used in the future. If the skill is mastered will it need to be unlearned? Ask excellent adult AAC users if the skill is useful or meaningful. The adage in AAC has always been we create a system for today and tomorrow. Along with that we must teach skills for today and tomorrow.