Many special education students who have limited communication skills have one well-developed communication function – requesting. This is often the first thing we teach students with significant disabilities; how to ask for something. Partially, we do this in order to alleviate frustration and allow the child to tell us what he wants. Partially, we do this because the things the child most often wants are concrete nouns that are easily represented with pictures or signs.
However, from a communication standpoint, requesting is what is called a “dead-end” function. That it, once the child makes a request and it is granted, there is no other interaction required. No engagement to maintain. We’re done.
But, as Janice Light is said to have pointed out, “There is more to life than cookies.” And, interestingly enough, what many of our students actually want is not more Skittles, but to be left alone, or given assistance, or to feel better – all things not easily represented by a concrete noun.
One of the first and most common modification I make to almost every student’s AAC system is fast and easy access to buttons that say, “Help,” or “Something’s Wrong,” or “Leave me alone.”
Then, I try to get the team to focus comments that also offer value and function for the student; such as, “Like,” or “Yuck,” or “Great!” or “Not.”
Here is a poster for your classroom, to remind staff of the variety of communication functions beyond requesting objects and actions. Keep your AAC users talking.
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