iTaalk Autism Foundation is a 501c3 Non Profit, providing interactive technology education and solutions to individuals with autism and related special needs, their parents and the professionals that serve them.
Have you ever seen an app on sale or even FREE, and thought "it looks great, but not for my kid" or "I don't even know how to use it"?  This Practical APPlication blog will feature free or discounted apps and provide practical tips on using them in ways you may not have even considered! 

Brooke Olson, President of iTaalk Autism Foundation with Aidan (July 2011, iPad Recipient)
AAC's - Why discrimination is NOT a dirty word in this field!

The most common questions we are asked at iTaalk, center around AAC apps and devices. A recent question:

How do I teach an autistic, nonverbal child to use an AAC? How do I get him to understand what it is for?

Well, thanks to Facebook, this mom/teacher was able to get a significant amount of very useful information. But, for those who missed it, or for those who aren't FB users, here's my version or recap!

DISCRIMINATION - Before you introduce any AAC, be sure your child can discriminate between the actual item and the icon the AAC uses.  Consider using Little Matchups - The Matching Game for Toddlers - to test and teach your child to discriminate between the icon and a photo of the item. What is so nice about this app (besides it being FREE) is you can add/edit your own photos. This makes for a perfect teaching tool. Take screen shots (hold the home button and the on/off button at the same time for one second and you take a photo of what is on your screen) and crop to just the icon, then import it into Little Matchups with a real photograph of the icon for perfect discrimination teaching and it feels like a game!  

If your child already has great matching and discrimination, it can still be a great tool for some of the harder concepts (emotions).  Try taking a photo of yourself or your child laughing and happy, (use yourself or family member, don't use the child for aversive emotions as they may bring on that emotion!!!) sad, angry, etc, and then match the icon from the AAC for that emotion.  There are MANY ways to utilize this great tool if you think outside the box a little (another "off-label" use!!!)

AAC - Teaching it to have meaning...
Begin with two preferred or motivating items, I will use jelly beans and Cheetos for this example (food is usually the best, as the items are typically easy to identify and are pretty vary day to day, you want something that you know your child loves EVERY DAY!) The question was brought up about starting with 1 vs 2 items.  It is important to always have a choice, being careful not to teach a child that touching one button gets them what they want...again DISCRIMINATION is Good (in this case)! However, starting with one preferred and one non-preferred might be necessary for some kiddos who struggle to make a choice.  (E.g. jelly bean and broccoli)

In 5 minute sessions (with larger breaks in between 1 hr or so) sit at a table or join your child where they feel comfortable but you can still keep distractions to a minimum. Place the iPad with your chosen AAC open in front of the child and open the screen to the page where you have put these two food (or other consistent motivators) choices. Proceed to tempt your child with the cheeto or jelly bean. As they take the jb or cheeto, hand over hand, prompt the child to touch the appropriate picture, then quickly deliver the requested food. The more trials the better, so smaller pieces of food (I cut the jb in half, cheetos into 1/4-1/8th). Stick with the same two choices for several days or until the child grasps the concept that touching the picture/choice, gets them their preferred motivator/food. (If food is not a motivator, then obviously use a toy, or tickles or something that you are quite confident will be their Motivator (MO) consistently until the idea is grasped!!!) 

Disclaimer: The decision to implement an AAC device for a child with autism is not one to be entered in lightly. There are many factors that should be evaluated before the choice is made to introduce such a device. We highly recommend that a licensed SLP and AAC/AT specialist be involved in your decision-making wherever possible. This post is just a VERY simplified version, and should not be done without the advice and support of your child's school, clinic or therapists.  The reason I even post is the number of teachers and parents that are begging for help and training on this topic is overwhelming. I know many SLP's read this and cringe, but in a perfect world, each SLP would not have to see 90-150 kids a week for only 15-30 minutes each, so they would have the time to do this on a much more complex and thorough level for each child. However, this is NOT a perfect world, and parents, teachers and paraprofessionals are left to implement the strategies.  Please feel free to offer your thoughts and strategies as well in the comments!  

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