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Back to School with AAC: Tips & Strategies

It is back-to-school time in many parts of the world. For neurodivergent AAC users, the many changes this time brings may induce anxiety. With a little bit of preparation, going back to school need not be a scary prospect. In this blog, find some insights and tips on how you can support AAC users to gently transition back into daily school routines.

Preparation is Key!

The beginning of a school year marks a fresh start, especially for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) users. This time is brimming with changes for them. Schedules and routines get switched around. There are many new people to meet and experiences to be had. All this can be a source of great overwhelm and anxiety, especially for communicators who are neurodivergent.

Whether they are just starting out at school or are transitioning to a new grade, a little forethought and preparation from our side will enable them to handle the changes better.

Structured routines are a great way of preparing AAC learners to ease into new experiences like school. In addition, equipping them with some tried and tested communication strategies will add to their confidence in dealing with a variety of situations. Let us understand how to build structured routines and foster effective communication strategies for AAC users.

Creating a Structured Daily Routine for AAC Users:

Having a consistent daily routine is key to supporting AAC users in their learning and communication journey. Here’s how you can incorporate a stable daily routine:

  1. Establish Predictable Patterns: AAC users are more comfortable and confident when they know what to expect. Develop a daily schedule that includes consistent wake-up calls, times for meals, school, play, and rest. Use visual aids, such as visual schedules or charts, to help your child understand and anticipate daily activities.
  2. Incorporate Transition Times: Smooth transitions are crucial for AAC users. Allocate time for transitioning between activities, and provide visual cues to signal upcoming changes. This reduces anxiety and promotes smoother communication exchanges.
  3. Balance Learning and Play: Integrate learning and playtime into the routine. Engage in activities that encourage communication, such as reading books, playing interactive games, or engaging in creative activities using AAC.

Navigating School and Home

Ensure that your child’s school routine aligns with their daily routine at home. When school routines mirror home routines, it minimizes confusion and stress. Similar communication strategies in both environments allow reinforce their communication skills. When AAC users apply what they learn at school to their interactions at home, and vice versa, this enhances the overall effectiveness of their communication.

Bridging School and Home for Success:

  1. Open Communication: Meet with your child’s teachers and the special education team to gain and share insights about your child’s daily routine at home, their communication strategies, and any strategies that have proven successful.
  2. Communication Strategies: Discuss the communication strategies that work well at home. Share information about the AAC system, core vocabulary, and communication techniques that your child responds to positively.
  3. IEP Meetings: If applicable, use Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings to discuss how to align the AAC user’s goals and strategies between home and school. Collaborate with educators to set mutual objectives that cater to the AAC user’s needs.
  4. Regular Updates: Maintain a healthy communication practice with teachers. Share updates about any changes in the AAC user’s routine at home, the progress they’ve made, or the challenges they might be facing.

Supporting AAC Users Through Academic Changes

Transitions to new grades, classrooms, and teachers can be both exciting and challenging for all students. For AAC users, these transitions hold a unique set of considerations. Here’s how you can help in smooth transitions as a parent or caregiver:

  1. Familiarization with new environment: Visit the new classroom or school with your AAC user before the official start. Allow them to explore the space, become acquainted with the layout, and interact with new peers and staff.
  2. Use role-play to prepare: Role-play with your AAC user to simulate new routines, such as changing classrooms or subjects. Use AAC to discuss and navigate these scenarios, building confidence and reducing anxiety.
  3. Update vocabulary on SGD: Collaborate with your child’s speech-language pathologist (SLP) to update their AAC system with vocabulary relevant to the new grade and subjects. Ensure they have the tools to express themselves in the new academic context.
  4. Provide consistency: While changes are inevitable, strive to maintain consistency in communication routines and strategies. Continue using familiar gestures, symbols, or phrases that your child is comfortable with.
  5. Encourage AAC use socially: Encourage your child to use their AAC system to introduce themselves to new classmates. Organize playdates or social interactions to help them establish connections and friendships.

Additionally, teach them how to ask for help, express opinions, and participate actively in class discussions.

Celebrating Milestones

Remember to take a moment to celebrate the milestones – big and small – that your child achieves along  this incredible journey. Every achievement in class and at home is a reason to celebrate! Good luck with the new school year 🎉

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