People have very strong feelings about AAC, love it or hate it. I often come across clinicians who want to use and learn more about AAC, but they all have stories of trying and failing, or being the only one on the team willing to use the device, or constantly lugging the device out of the student’s backpack. Then there are the stories of families who seem so gung-ho to begin, but once they discover AAC is not a quick fix or miracle cure, lose interest in using the device with their child. I have known clinicians who focused on AAC for many years of their careers only to get so fed up with all the obstacles that they stop using AAC too. With all the barriers to access, teaching, getting the team on board, and generalization of skills, why do we even bother??
It feels like something we shouldn’t say (I want to give up, AAC is too much trouble). It’s hard to bump up against these obstacles day after day without feeling discouraged. I have wanted to give up too, but one thing keeps me going. The small wins and little success stories. I’ll share 2 small wins that I think about often when I’m feeling discouraged.
I was 3 years out of grad school and working as an AAC specialist with little inkling of what I was doing. My job was going into classrooms in my territory (3 counties) to make sure kids who needed AAC had the device they needed, train staff, and consult with SLPs. I had one particularly ornery special education teacher on my caseload. She had been teaching for over 20 years, I was a young pup, and she was not going to let me put something else on her plate. Especially something she was convinced would never work for her students. Week after week I went into her classroom, dragged all the AAC devices out of the backpacks, talked to the paraprofessionals who worked with the students, and made observations and suggestions for the teacher. Week after week she nodded and then promptly ignored me. This continued for the entire school year until one day in the spring I went into the classroom, and she greeted me (shocking! She usually ignored me). She told me that the day before one of the students who was mostly non-verbal initiated communication with her using his device to say something he had not been taught. It was totally spontaneous, and he was able to get his message across. She even said something like, “I never thought he’d be able to do something like that.” Hallelujah! I almost did a back flip. It was the teeniest of wins, but totally worth the months of effort to get there.
Many years later, I was working with a new client on getting a device. We trialed devices, and I submitted to her insurance company to fund the device. When you do that, you have to get a prescription signed by the child’s pediatrician. It just so happens that my client’s pediatrician was the mother of a former client of mine who used AAC. She signed the prescription form and sent it back to me. A few days later she called me. She told me she wanted to let me know how much of a difference her son’s AAC device had made in his life. His birthday was just a few weeks prior, and he was able to go to his device and tell her exactly the kind of cake he wanted and what presents he wanted. She was thrilled! Needless to say, I was in tears thinking about how far this client had come in the 3 years he had been using his device. I think about this story a lot when I am feeling like my clients aren’t progressing “fast enough.”
These little wins don’t happen all the time, but when they do it reminds me why I do this crazy thing called AAC.
I have been "doing" AAC for the bulk of my career. Along the way I have encountered situations that made my blood boil, humbled me, saddened me, and inspired me. I have also spent A LOT of time trying, failing, picking myself back up, and trying again. My goal is to share about the lessons I've learned and the people I have met along the way.