Partner Instruction in AAC: Strategies for Building Circles of Support


Unless noted otherwise, all session have an instructional level of intermediate.

Plenary Session

Building Circles of Support 
Jennifer Kent-Walsh, PhD, CCC-SLP
Cathy Binger, PhD, CCC-SLP

Working with communication partners is a key component of any AAC intervention program. In this session, we'll provide a brief introduction and discuss the need for clinical services in this area. Finally, we'll present an overview of the conference presentations, underlining the clinical relevance of each session.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • describe common communication patterns of individuals who use AAC
  • describe common communication patterns of communication partners working with individuals who use AAC
  • list at least two clinically relevant topics on providing instruction to communication partners

Partner Instruction for Clients of any Age

Selecting Appropriate Skills to Teach Communication Partners 
Cathy Binger, PhD, CCC-SLP
Jennifer Kent-Walsh, PhD, CCC-SLP

Teaching communication partners how to provide AAC supports is essential to AAC success. One way to improve clinical outcomes is to select appropriate skills to teach communication partners. Although this seems straightforward, deciding which skills to teach partners can present multiple challenges. In this session, we'll troubleshoot common issues and discuss how to select skills systematically, resulting in the desired effects for both communication partners and clients.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • identify at least two common errors when selecting skills
  • identify at least two criteria for successful skill selection
  • describe one skill that could be taught to a communication partner
  • describe the desired impact the selected skill would have on the client

Fundamentals of the ImPAACT Program
Jennifer Kent-Walsh, PhD, CCC-SLP
Cathy Binger, PhD, CCC-SLP

It can be difficult for clinicians to know how to structure their work with communication partners so that it's more than simply "telling" them what they "should" be doing. In this session, we'll describe the ImPAACT Program, an evidence-based, eight-step protocol for partner instruction in AAC. With illustrated examples, we'll provide strategies for practice and support as communication partners learn to alter their own communication to support the efforts of individuals using AAC.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • describe at least two steps of an evidence-based protocol for partner instruction
  • discuss at least two instructional techniques that can be used with communication partners
  • describe at least two potential positive impacts partner instruction can have on the communication of those using AAC

Training Partners in AAC in Culturally Diverse Families
Gloria Soto, PhD

In this presentation, we provide information that may increase an SLP's effectiveness in delivering AAC intervention to culturally diverse populations. We begin by describing the concept of "culturally responsive" practice and discuss how it applies to AAC intervention—specifically, how it applies to culturally responsive partner training. We'll also present existing research findings about family perspectives toward communication intervention, and highlight choice of language, family dynamics, and interaction with professionals. Finally, we'll discuss specific suggestions for culturally responsive partner training.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • describe culturally responsive partner training in AAC
  • give two examples of family concerns that could affect AAC interaction
  • identify two factors that would facilitate culturally responsive practice

Communication Partners of Adults Who Use AAC

Training Communication Partners of Adults Who Rely on AAC
David Beukelman, PhD, CCC-SLP
Amber Thiessen, MS, CCC-SLP

AAC interventions often focus on the individual with communication needs, but frequently ignore those who interact with them. In this program, you'll learn evidenced-based training techniques and adult-learning principles to help you work effectively with communication partners. We'll also discuss shared communication space, which makes more meaningful interactions between communication partners and those who rely on AAC.

After completing this program, you will be able to

  • state the common difficulties that people who rely on AAC face when interacting with communication partners
  • describe the skills needed to be an effective communication partner
  • explain shared communication space and how it can lead to improved interactions between communication partners and people who rely on AAC
  • describe the basic principles of adult learning and explain how age affects people's learning styles

Communication Partner Support for Adults with Acquired Communication Impairment
Joanne P. Lasker, PhD, CCC-SLP
Laura J. Ball, PhD, CCC-SLP

Communication partners play multiple roles in AAC assessment and implementation for adults with acquired communication disorders. In this session, we'll present recommended strategies for communication partners of individuals with acquired language disorders (aphasia) and acquired speech disorders (dysarthria due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). We'll also discuss strategies for teaching communication partners to help select the appropriate AAC systems and approaches, to manage ongoing support of AAC by designating personnel roles, and to deal with common pitfalls associated with AAC technologies and approaches. You'll learn how to engage communication partners throughout the AAC assessment and intervention process, including communication at the end of life, and we'll present case studies that demonstrate how different partners participate in the communication process. Finally, we'll discuss current research evidence on these topics.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • identify partner strategies for AAC with adults who have acquired disorders
  • describe how to teach communication partners the strategies that optimize the selection of AAC systems and approaches
  • discuss the research behind these techniques and approaches

Self-Anchored Rating Scales: A Family-Based AAC Approach
Lynn E. Fox, PhD, CCC-SLP

Couple and family therapists have long used self-anchored rating scales (SARS) with their clients. Now, SLPs are adapting this approach to improve life participation for adults living with chronic aphasia, and their families. SARS provides a visual framework that facilitates family participation, ensures that AAC solutions are connected to the family's unique style, and expands goals on successful interactive patterns within the family. In this program, we'll describe the five major steps in the scaling process, and will illustrate the technique with video examples of treatment sessions. We'll also discuss unique AAC solutions and changes in partner support during the scaling sessions.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • describe the purpose of SARS
  • describe the steps in collaboratively creating a SARS
  • discuss appropriate counseling skills for developing and using SARS
  • describe how the use of SARS promotes successful AAC generalization in natural environments

AAC in the Workplace
David McNaughton, PhD
David Chapple, BS

For many adults with complex communication needs, employment plays an important role in life-satisfaction, and SLPs play a special role in identifying and supporting the communication skills needed for these individuals to obtain and maintain employment. In this presentation, we'll use a series of case examples to demonstrate that individuals who require AAC can achieve positive employment outcomes. We'll also discuss challenges to workforce participation and key strategies that support employment success. Finally, we'll focus on developing and using effective AAC strategies to support workplace participation in this population.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • describe three key benefits to workplace participation for individuals who use AAC
  • list three key challenges to workplace participation for this population
  • discuss three key supports to workplace participation and the SLP's role in supporting positive employment outcomes for this demographic

Communication Partners of Children Who Use AAC

Working With Stakeholders to Expand Services to Children With Autism
Billy T. Ogletree, PhD, CCC-SLP

SLPs are challenged to provide effective service delivery to children on the autism spectrum and their families. Central to this challenge is finding time to create and implement programs that reflect recommended practice guidelines. An obvious solution is to expand service delivery to include stakeholders—that is, all the individuals active in a child's life. In this presentation, we'll discuss a comprehensive model of care and real-world illustrations of "stakeholder active" assessment and intervention.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • discuss the concept of stakeholders as intervention agents
  • describe three ways stakeholders can assist with dynamic communication assessment
  • describe three ways stakeholders can assist with communication intervention
  • discuss a comprehensive model of service delivery that takes into account the child, the stakeholders, and the physical and relationship contexts in which these individuals live

Peer-Mediated AAC for Preschoolers With Developmental Disabilities
Kathy Thiemann-Bourque, PhD, CCC-SLP

Successful communication involves reciprocity between communication partners, and this is also true with children with developmental disabilities (DD) who use AAC and their peers without disabilities. Given the empirical support for peer-mediated interventions and the reported effectiveness of using AAC to teach initiations and responses, we can integrate these two approaches to advance the social communication skills of young children with DD. In this session, you'll learn effective strategies to recruit and train peers without disabilities, how to engineer the preschool environment for social success, ways to teach peer partners how to use AAC systems (e.g., PECS, SGDs), and how to teach communication skills in natural, play-based preschool routines. We'll also discuss data collection approaches to help monitor and evaluate the progress of child-peer social communication.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • recruit and train peers without disabilities to be more responsive conversational partners
  • set appropriate social and communication goals for preschool children learning to use AAC
  • teach children with and without disabilities how to use AAC systems to communicate in play
  • monitor and evaluate children's social progress in specific social communication skills

Parent-Coached Intervention for Toddlers and Preschoolers
MaryAnn Romski, PhD, CCC-SLP
Rose A Sevcik, PhD
Andrea Barton-Hulsey, MA, CCC-SLP

Severe spoken language impairments in early life can have far-reaching consequences for a child's long-term development. In this presentation, we'll provide an overview of a clinical research program on parent-coached early language intervention, which focuses on toddlers with significant developmental delays who are not speaking. Not only do augmented language interventions provide a way for a child to communicate almost immediately, but they don't hinder spoken word development. Finally, we'll discuss the roles of receptive and expressive language in early language intervention, clinical myths about AAC, the importance of parents in early language intervention, intervention protocols that emphasize naturalistic activities, speech development, and the transition to preschool.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • describe the role of receptive and expressive language skills in early language intervention
  • discuss the importance of speech generating devices in augmented language interventions
  • describe the parents' role in augmented language interventions
  • discuss protocols for implementing parent-coached language interventions
  • describe the transition from early intervention to preschool
  • articulate the role of augmented language interventions in speech development

Partners Working With Children Who Have Sensory and Multiple Disabilities
Philip Schweigert, MEd

Too often, intervention is focused on a symbolic form without considering a child's understanding of communication and its purpose. This may be particularly true for people who have sensory and multiple impairments. Since sensory impairments can limit the access these learners have to partners and communication topics, additional disabilities (e.g., cognitive or motor challenges) may further restrict their means of communication, hindering our ability to detect and respond to their attempts to engage the world. In this session, we'll discuss strategies to help us develop meaningful communication with this population.

After completing this session, you will be able to

  • identify key elements of communication development
  • describe the role of the communication partner in relation to these elements and the learner's understanding of communication
  • describe strategies for helping the learner develop communicative intent and how these strategies can be embedded into daily routines
  • describe symbolic communication options for learners who have sensory and multiple disabilities

Optimizing the Communication Growth of a Child With Severe Disabilities
Nancy Brady, PhD, CCC-SLP

Partner support is crucial for optimizing a child's communication growth, which is directly linked to the amount of communication input a child receives. A child will have better long-term outcomes when a caregiver scaffolds communication and talks more to the child. For a child with severe disabilities, it's important that these partner behaviors continue over many years. In this presentation, we'll focus on teaching strategies to promote a partner's scaffolding of nonsymbolic and early symbolic behaviors while increasing communication input to children with severe disabilities. We'll discuss evidence-based strategies as well as new technologies useful in monitoring partner communication.

After completing this program, you will be able to:

  • assess nonsymbolic communication acts used by children and their caregivers in real contexts
  • identify teaching goals for caregivers based on these assessments
  • create programming goals that promote current use of nonsymbolic communication along with new forms such as AAC
  • monitor partner progress in using the targeted communication goals
  • monitor communication input by caregivers across environments

Enhanced Milieu Teaching (EMT): Incorporating AAC Modes in Naturalistic Teaching With Young Children and Their Partners
Ann P. Kaiser, PhD

In this presentation, we'll review EMT, an evidence-based, naturalistic teaching strategy, with special attention on how to adapt these strategies for use with AAC. We'll discuss what to consider when choosing an AAC mode that is easily implemented in everyday conversations with partners across daily activities, along with communication goals for young children with communication impairments. You'll learn how to implement EMT strategies using AAC modes with young children, and strategies for teaching parents and teachers to use EMT with AAC. Finally, you'll be prepared to use developmentally appropriate strategies to teach communication with AAC modes in every day context and strategies for teaching communication partners.

After completing this session, you will be able to:

  • describe key strategies of EMT
  • identify communication goals for toddlers and young children who use AAC as a framework for naturalistic intervention
  • describe how conversational partners can support and teach communication using AAC modes with EMT strategies
  • list basic strategies for teaching EMT with AAC modes to parents and others

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