Setting AAC Goals: Please And Thank You

A great piece on the intricacies and functions of AAC….


Can we please stop expecting kids who use AAC to end every request with “please”? I’m talking about those emergent communicators who are just learning that their voiceempowers them. I’m referring to those beginner communicators whom we are desperately trying to move beyond requesting”goldfish please.” The goldfish may be hugely motivating, but saying “please” — no way! Although politeness is admirable, if you push for “please” at this point, you may end up with overgeneralization due to a lack of understanding of that concept as new core words are introduced. That’s when you hear things like “I see goldfish please” on a fieldtrip to the aquarium.

We often get hung up on increasing mean length of utterance (MLU) before it’s developmentally appropriate. Let’s think about Brown’s Language Stages. If a child is using just 75 words (such as go, help, more, stop) and speaking in single words, he’s at Stage…

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A midnight treat

Since being a parent my sleep has been awful. 

It’s always the way, either I’m asleep and one of the kids wakes me or someone needs something so I wake, usually unable to go back to sleep, laying with one ear open in case they need anything else. Or everyone is asleep by 11pm and I’m still laying in bed at 4.30am either graphically revisiting every bad life decision I’ve ever made or attempting to memorise a mental to do list for the next day, week, month or for the rest of my life.

Currently I’m on night 3 and I still can’t memorise any mental list. I’m absolutely shattered and becoming increasingly frustrated with my tired brain which seems to have forgotten how to work it’s off switch. It’s always felt unfair that no matter how bad I sleep there’s always that expectation to get up in the morning and carry on as before, regardless of how tired I may be! It’s a responsibility to always be on call 24/7 and on nights like this it really sucks.

Everyone’s asleep; they have been for hours. I hear a small whimper from Dylan’s room and his mattress creak as he rolls over then, as clear as a bell he calls out, “Mum”

My heart skips a beat as I jump up to check if he’s okay. I pop my head round his door and he sleeping soundly like a baby slapping his lips mid dream. 

I sneak back to bed elated. He’s fine, he’s just dreaming but he spoke! Properly spoke. Clearer than I’ve ever heard. And he called me, in his unconcious state he wanted me or thought of me. I wish I had recorded it. I would love to hear it again. My hearts still racing as i recall it. It was the best thing I’ve ever heard.  Hearing him talk like that was a total chance event and if I was asleep I would have missed it. 

If there’s a chance I could hear that one more time I’ld happily agree to never sleep again. 

Sweet dreams little man. I’m here, always listening x

Picture is of a different day when, mid morning, Dylan decided he had had enough of being awake and took himself off for a quiet lie down. Typical! The boy hasn’t napped since he was 6 months old! 😂


The real slim shady

A warm autumn day, the last warm day for a while so I coax Dylan out of his heavy hooded coat to give it a wash and hang it on the line. 

Heading out for the afternoon school run and Dylan’s managed well for this long without his beloved coat. To add insult to injury he left the house in a rush and forgot his ear defenders. Now Dylan *has* to listen to the radio on volume 20 even though it’s too loud for his sensitive ears without ear defenders. He struggles through it until we turn southeast and right into the glare of the afternoon sun. It’s all too much and Dylan’s cackling and swinging himself around in the front seat trying the juggle the sensory cocktail thrust upon him. 

We’re heading for panic. I can’t get his coat. We’re going to be late if we go back for the ear defenders. There’s no other route to school which would avoid the bright sun. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…. until this…

He dug out my oversized shades and stuck them on his face, instantly relieved. And then just like that he kicked back and listened to the tunes on the radio for the rest of the trip. We gently pulled up at the school gates. Fearing he may feel a bit self concious 

“Dylan do you want to take those off now?” 


And he didn’t. And then he rocked them, all the way home 🙂


Making requests other than food.

Dylan wants to say something on his iPad. He’s loaded the sentence but doesn’t want to hear it: probably because he knows the answer will be a firm no. (Dylan lost his pudding today as a punishment but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

Because he won’t turn the iPad volume up I can’t hear his request. I tell him ‘Dylan I can’t hear it, turn it up’.
Dylan has no choice but to turn the volume up if he wants to have a chance at pudding. But he really doesn’t want to hear the request (as Dads probably already answered it) and neither does he want to hear me repeat Dads negative response to his pudding plea.
So this is a video of Dylan trying to untangle his ear defenders from his iPad strap so he can put them on before turning the iPad up. I know he’s in a tangle. I know he probably won’t be able to untangle them himself but I’m going to sit and wait and not get involved until Dylan makes an important request for something other than food. 
**Dylan needs to ask for help.**
Dylan was probably trying to free his ear defenders for about 40 seconds before I began recording. Including the 24 second video thats a minute of Dylan struggling before he makes his request. 
It just goes to show that despite Dylans ability to use his voice, be it verbal or with the iPad, for something less motivating than food he needs more time. 
He needs more time to focus and more time to either coordinate what he needs to complete the task or to coordinate what he needs to gain assistance.


Questioning times

Wednesday is my dinner out with the kids. I take one at a time for a bit of Mumma time. Dylan loves his Wednesdays, in fact every Wednesday, no make that every Monday evening we are already putting the feelers out for whether this Wednesday is *his* Wednesday.

When it is, we hear about his plans all day, he checks in with me regularly

‘Wednesday Pizza Hut’ 

‘Yes Dylan this Wednesday we will go to Pizza Hut’

I love it.


Things have changed recently at Pizza Hut; they did a buffet with refillable chips which Dylan loves. We have the same waitress who is absolutely lovely. She seeks Dylan out and knows that he really loves his food. One thing I love about taking Dylan to Pizza Hut is that the staff never really talks to me – Dylan orders us a table and gets us seated independently; the staff familiar with Dylan don’t even speak to me – I’m just with him.

This waitress loves to see how Dylan is and check he’s okay throughout our visit. As soon as Dylan’s bowl of chips runs empty she’s there ‘Would you like more chips?’ She understands Dylan’s ‘Yah bee’ and happily rushes off to get him some more.

However four – yes four bowls of chips later and Dylan’s looking grey, instinctively I took him to the toilet where he then threw up the aforementioned chips.

It got me questioning – what do I do? Do I stop him from eating so much like you would a toddler, or do I treat him like his 14 year old self and let him decide how much he wants to eat? 

Josh and Grace definitely wouldn’t be allowed to eat that much but then neither would they want to as they know it would make them ill and I’m not sure if the waitress would offer the other two so many refills? Dylan is treated differently in what could be deemed as a positive light. Where he is so restricted in his communication and lack of interest in so many things when you do catch his interest it’s hard to say no to him or not grant his wishes. He does get treated differently to Josh and Grace who would often be told no to a second pudding but see Dylan eating his third because we were so happy that he initiated a interaction with us to request it that we agreed with him. But that isn’t right, nor is it sustainable.

I brought this up a recent ABA workshop where Dad and I talked through reflectively the issues that I know I have always had with telling Dylan ‘no’. I’m ashamed to say that once I let him eat 6 hot cross buns as he kept asking for them and I was so scared that if I said no to him then he wouldn’t ask me with his little PECS pictures anymore. Silly but that’s how autism affects you as a parent; Terrified of regression.

Then we realised we ask ‘Would you like…?’ when of course Dylan is taking the question literally; yes he would like but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he should have the said item. 

We could ask Dylan ‘would you like ice-cream or a lolly’?’ Dylan will get muddled and ultimately answer both. Which of course he wants both but the fault is in what we are asking. The method of our question is naturally confusing for him. 

From this workshop we are changing what we ask Dylan from ‘Do you want?’ to ‘What will you have?’ A more concrete question more steered to one specific answer than can be a truer reflection of his answer rather than a combination or false answer.

So when at Pizza Hut and Dylan’s next asked ‘would you like more chips?’ I will intercept with a ‘Are you having more chips?’ which then formulates the opportunity for Dylan to provide a more realistic ‘no’ after the second portion.

Wishful thinking eh?


Not hanging around for washing 

Everybody in this house hates putting their clean laundry away. But no-one more that Dylan.

It’s probably due to the endless piles which, no sooner are they hung away, seem to grow again, larger and at a frightening speed.

Through months of ABA teaching, tens of skills are taught tiny bit by tiny bit until Dylan is confident that he can remember and apply them when needed. Examples of tasks taught are sorting, fine motor skills for how to work pegs – this was a 4 step program alone requiring work on pressure of fingers, angle of hand/wrist, when to squeeze the peg and when to stop squeezing the peg (and let go!) A timer programme for the washing machine, sorting programmes for clean and dirty as well as wet and dry and then a whole programme on how to ensure hung clothes stay on the hanger. This is all in addition to a whole bunch of other previously taught skills and learning which was tweaked so that Dylan could apply this previous learning to washing specific learning to ensure his laundry tasks were successfully completed.

The skills for washing are now chained together enabling Dylan to load and unload the washing machine. He’s both a pro at hanging the clean, wet washing out on the line to dry and will also take the load down again once dry and bring it indoors in a calm controlled fashion without pinging clothes pegs everywhere (much better than Josh and Grace do it!!)

But this end bit, the putting away bit, causes him no end of anxiety. He can put the clothes on the hangers and hang them up in his wardrobe fine but between each item joining its hanger and them being put away he has to bring it to us and thrust it in our faces.

Every. Single. Item.

No words. He just shows us he’s done it. We praise him for each item successfully on its hanger and then he grumbles off to hang it away.

Well done Dylan 🙂