You know that cheesy saying, "team work makes the dream work"-this couldn't be more true than in the case of supporting language and communication development with AAC . For communication development with AAC to be effective, we all need to be working together, from assessment through independence. Today we are launching a new blog series where each valuable member of our AAC Village can share their experiences and advice on assembling a dream AAC team and keeping that team engaged, inspired, and on the same page.
In recognition of the first, annual World Behavior Analysis Day (today, March 20, 2021), I thought I'd start us out by sharing my experiences and strategies for teaming with behavior professionals supporting my communicators with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My regular collaboration with board certified behavior analysts (BCBA's) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT's) started around 2015 when I took on a part-time consulting role at a local ABA center offering intensive day program services. This intensive program was required to have the support and guidance of a speech-language pathologist, which is where I came in. The students in this program were all under the age of 5 years old, with varying levels of impact from ASD. More than half were non-verbal, and less than 10% had any sort of AAC support in place. I recognized immediately how a strong partnership with my behavior colleagues could have a powerful impact on the communication outcomes of the kids in this program. I saw an exciting challenge, and a chance to learn a new skill set that would improve my scope of competence as a provider.
What I Loved
My behavior colleagues had the skills to help me analyze the relationship between behavior and communication. There was a mutual appreciation for what each of us brought to the task of functional communication analysis.
The high dosage of therapy contact afforded by the intensive nature of ABA services was far more than I had ever gotten as an SLP. A coaching and consulting model that focused on creating and supporting communication learning opportunities during therapy programs and classroom activities meant that our partnership could support so much more aided language modeling than speech sessions alone.
My colleagues were eager to learn about communication development and to learn new ways of thinking about and approaching communication skills in their clients. They asked for trainings during staff meetings and lunches and pulled me aside often to team on cases and ask questions when they hit a road block in supporting communication.
What Was Challenging
I had to learn a lot of the behavior lingo to better understand the goals and programs for my clients. Although there is a significant amount of overlap in the skills and strategies used by both of our disciplines, the behavior field called everything by a different name, which made it tricky to communicate with each other at times, and with parents.
I encountered a handful of behavior professionals that were less open to working with me, perhaps because it was overwhelming, or my philosophy and approach seemed counter to theirs. While everyone was respectful, not everyone was eager, and some partnerships took a lot more gentle persistence.
Being a coach, consultant, and partner is a different skill set than being a clinician. At times, especially in the beginning, it was challenging to not over step, overtake, or just fall into that direct intervention role. Over time, with more training and experience, this got much easier and proved to be a much more effective use of my time.
I moved on from my role at this center in 2018, but left with a strong belief that partnership with behavior professionals supporting communicators with complex needs is essential to realizing positive communication outcomes. I continue to offer consulting services to several BCBA's for their clients using AAC, and make an effort to partner with each BCBA and RBT serving my own clients, starting with the first assessment and continuing through follow-up care. In my experiences, I have used the following strategies to set each of us up for success:
Connect - As with any partnership or relationship, someone has to make that first move to connect. I prioritize reaching out to the behavior professionals serving my clients for a quick video chat, a phone call, or a joint session. This connection doesn't have to be overbearing or even take that much time, but that simple gesture of introducing yourself and opening the door to conversation is crucial.
Coordinate - Once you establish a connection, make a plan for regular contact to coordinate care and identify opportunities for collaboration. I do this is by asking the family for permission to set up an email group, share a communication log via a cloud drive like Google Drive, and/or behavior professionals to join my sessions (invite myself to theirs ::). If we are all working with a whole child and family on similar goals, we owe it to that child and family to be on the same page, especially when it coms to language strategies with AAC.
Create, Support, Model - With ongoing connection and coordination comes opportunities to learn from one another. One framework I like to share with my behavior colleagues early on is a simple strategy to enhance language learning during ABA sessions and parent coaching conducted by a BCBA. The framework I've come up with - Create communication learning opportunities, Support those opportunities by addressing engagement and sensory needs, and Model language verbally and through AAC that matches the child's interests and message-has been well received by my team members and has shown positive impacts on communication learning. This framework is accessible and reproducible for BCBA's and RBT's.
Children with ASD have complex needs and with that, require comprehensive team care. Reach out and thank a behavior colleague today, start a partnership, and I promise, you'll see a return on your investment in a big way!
How do you collaborate with behavior professionals? What challenges have you experienced in this collaboration?