It is important that children with communication difficulties are provided with frequent opportunities to interact with others, both adults and, more importantly, their peers. Advice and information should be sought from speech and language therapists, although it should be noted that not all therapists are experienced in developing AAC systems.
Technology has much to offer in the development of communication skills. Speech output devices have particular value as they give the user verbal feedback and are more readily understood by the child's peers. Simple electronic aids such as the BigMack and the Partner One which hold one message, or the Step by Step which holds a sequence of messages are excellent for classroom activities as children can join in a new activity at a moments notice. Messages can be quickly recorded or replaced. Although these devices are obviously limited in scope, they can be used to introduce a child to a low-tech electronic aid.
Here are some ideas for using single message and step by step communicators.
Children enjoy stories with repeated phrases. A voice output device can easily be programmed with the phrase and the child can join in by pressing the switch or device at the appropriate time. For example you might record the words "Fee Fi Fo Fum" when telling the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Used in this way, speech output devices can be a useful assessment tool, giving the child an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the story by joining in at the appropriate time. For other children not at a level where they are able to determine the appropriate time to press the switch from the context of the story, you could record sound effects to enhance the story, for example animal noises in the Sleepy Farmer.
Speech output devices can be used by children to give instructions to others: particularly valuable as it allows a child to give instructions to adults. A child's communication skills can be developed by getting the child to choose a person (maybe by eye-pointing) and then pressing the device to deliver an instruction to the chosen person. Children really enjoy giving silly instructions to adults, for example, "stand on the chair", "run around the room", "sing a song", "make a funny face" etc..
Hide and Seek
Communication devices can be used by a child to tell somebody when they are getting 'warmer' when looking for a hidden object. If the child can manage two devices they can have one programmed with "warmer" and one with "colder".
Children with communication difficulties can use the device to join in with the chorus or repeated phrase in popular songs.
With the punchline of a child's favourite joke programmed into the machine, the child can join in the delivery of a joke to others.
More information on communication difficulties