October is AAC Awareness Month - Communication Development & Purposes
I love Augmentative Assistive Communication (AAC). It's something that when I first learned about it, I was drawn in immediately. The combination of technology (or not), with my love for communication was like a match made in heaven.
This month, I want to help break the mysteries of AAC. First, let's better understand communication...
How Does Communication Develop?
Our first attempts at communication occur when we're a baby, learning to coordinate our body and trying to figure out all these sensations we're feeling. Ouch, there's a pain in my stomach, so I cry, and I cry louder, until... oh, there's that familiar smell and taste that makes the pain go away. Oh no, now the pain is a little lower than my tummy. I'll start to cry again, that helped last time... Toot! Ahh, that feels much better! I'll pull my lips tight into a smile... Oh, look, I like that face and that smell! And hey, my smile made her chuckle and smile back... I like that too, maybe I'll try it again...
As we figure out how to use our bodies, we are constantly learning by how our caregivers respond to us and our movements, looks and noises. We take this information and over time, we figure out how to use it to make things happen. Through this trial and error with our caregivers, we figure out how to get our basic needs met. As we get older, our basic needs become more elaborate and so does our communication.
One of the most important milestones in our communication development is our ability to sit up unassisted (see Iverson, 2010). But wait, what does this have to do with communication?It encourages us to explore! Sitting independently encourages our babies to start exploring the world and gives them the foundational skills in figuring out how to compensate for gravity as we transition to an upright posture. Exploring our environment gives us an opportunities to problem solve was is and is not around us. Interestingly, according to Leezenbaum (2015), typically developing children around 6 months old spent significantly more time sitting unassisted than infants who are at a high risk for autism at the same age.
Also, between the ages of 4-7 months old, we develop a skill called object permanence. This means, we understand that just because we cannot see something, doesn't mean it stops existing. With the development of object permanence, we start realizing we can communicate more than our fundamental needs of food, water and social play. We start understanding how to form better bonds with those around us and the objects in our world. This skill is a foundational skill that later helps us develop an understanding of symbols; meaning that we can use something to represent another item, object or concept.
Words and gestures are symbols.
As our baby is learning to babble, she's also learning to coordinate her arms and legs. She's starting to crawl, pull up and explore more. As she extends her hand, she notices your reaction! Eventually, she learns to use this extension to gesture, point and draw your attention to that toy just out of reach...
Usually around 12 months old, most children are starting to say their first words. They've been practicing with babble and jargon, again, learning to coordinate lips, tongue, mouth and breath while testing the different reactions each sound gets. They've been watching as mommy parades around saying "Mama! Mama!", daddy boogies over "Dada! Dada!" and then mommy laughs at daddy's boogie and exclaims "DADA!!" Of course, the dog starts to bark at all the commotion, so little baby's mouth starts to say "oof! oof! oof!" instead. What a treat to see our family react to these first words as our bodies and minds put it all in order!
As we experience more, we have more to communicate and more to talk about. We've seen, heard and felt more of the world, and it's all so new! We want to share it! Sometimes our caregivers will help us label things; like that hot, tight feeling in our face and chest means that we feel "mad", but that heavy feeling in our chest with watery eyes means that we feel "sad". Our caregivers are like guides, who explain these symbols as they occur either formally or informally. We take it all in, mix it with our own understanding and perspective and the result is our ability to communicate.
Why Do We Communicate?
We are complex problem solvers with our use of intricate tools, it's only right we figured out how to use our own body as tool as well. Additionally, being the social creatures we are, we've evolved a need to let others know what's on our minds. Our gestures and voices serve to connect us with those around us in a variety of manners. These include:
Requesting an Object or Activity
Obtaining/Asking for Information
All of our interactions likely fit into one or more of these categories. It's important we provide our children opportunities to express each and every one of these functions. We may not enjoy when our children protest and negotiate, but it's their right, and instinct, to do so. Through our interactions, we can help them figure out the most effective ways to communicate each function in different environments and settings. Protesting bedtime when Mommy is tired too on a Wednesday night probably looks a lot different than protesting bedtime on a Friday night. Maybe protesting to Daddy looks and sounds different too? These are all tricks our children need to learn to become effective communicators as adults.
Over the next month, I will continue to provide information for you relating to communication and assistive communication. It's important we have a solid understanding of how communication develops and why we communicate before we dive deeper into the complexities of AAC. Send me your questions and let's continue to learn about my favorite subject this week!