Stake of newspapers tied with rope

AAC research and practice

Last week I was grateful to be invited by the AAC journal club team to host a session which asked: What has changed with AAC technology and what next?

The AAC journal club is a lively forum where speech and language therapists come together to discuss chosen papers in the context of clinical work. In past years, therapists have informally met for discussions and after work drinks in some of the lovely pubs of Camden, London. In its online edition, attendees participated from all over the UK.

For the discussion, I chose four papers that have separately considered some of the complexities around adopting AAC technologies within people’s conversations and ultimately, within their lives.

Waller, A (2018) Telling tales: Unlocking the potential of AAC technologies. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, March/April 2019, Vol 54:2 159-169 doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12449

Smith, M.M. & Murray, J. (2011) Parachute without a ripcord: The skydive of communication interaction. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 27:4, 292-303, doi: 10.3109/07434618.2011.630022

Light, J., McNaughton, D., Beukelman, D., Fager, S.K., Fried-Oken, M., Jakobs, T., & Jakobs, E. (2019) Challenges and opportunities in augmentative and alternative communication: Research and technology development to enhance communication and participation for individuals with complex communication needs, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 35:1, 1-12, DOI: 10.1080/07434618.2018.1556732

Ibrahim, S., Vasalou, A., Clarke, M. (2018) Design opportunities for AAC and children with severe speech and physical impairments. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 227:1-227:13. CHI ’18. New York, NY, USA: ACM.*

*Note: Yes, this last one may appear like a shameless plug, but I was invited to talk about my paper and chose the other three articles as they offered related discussion points.

The discussions were incredibly stimulating and the best part for me was hearing from colleagues about their experiences of negotiating expectations about what communication therapy can and should entail. Some of the key take home from our discussions are summarised below. These are mainly reflections from how the discussions related to my own clinical practice.

  • In the past, I’ve spent a scandalous amount of time trying to operationally manage children’s AAC technologies (software updates, resolving tech issues, personalising vocabulary and symbol sets, reorganising screen layouts for access issues etc). Yes, these aspects are also a part of it, but they also take away from the valuable time that is needed to plan useful interventions that reflect the complexities of children’s lives.
  • Prioritising linguistic goals is undoubtedly important for supporting access to inclusion, but there is a balance to be struck. There are many other interactional and technological aspects that are in desperate need of attention.
  • Speech therapy interventions should prioritise autonomy. This is no different if working with very young children or adults. Choosing to focus on formal teaching contexts alone means that young adults leaving educational settings quickly find themselves with a limited set of resources that were context dependent from years gone by. Therapists have a key role in supporting people who use AAC to develop strategies and tools that advance agency to communicate with different people in different places.

Huge thank you to Clare Parsons, Ruth Carr and Samia Malik for coordinating the event and to all the SLTs who attended the session. I really enjoyed the discussion!

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