Telling Tales Isn’t All Bad! AAC Narratives to Talk About
A tale is a story. A narrative is a story. And stories can take a variety of different forms; from fictional stories about imagined things or relating of experiences that really happened.
Narrative skills are, at heart, the focus of speech-language therapy. We want to develop competent communicators, and telling stories about one’s experiences are very important to communication competence. Narratives require, at the level of competence, vocabulary, morphology, syntax skills, and more.
But it is possible to develop narrative skills at much more basic levels. Narrative skills develop along a continuum, and the first steps can be simple a string of single words.
A case in point, that I tell about often, is that of a nonverbal young man (16 y.o. at the time I met him) for whom I created a PODD (Pragmatic Organized Dynamic Display) communication book. He had previously had an exchange system containing only about a dozen pictures of favorite reinforcing objects (food) and activities (physical exercise related).
Sure, he knew how to ask for Skittles or to go running, but that was the extent of the communication functions and vocabulary he had access to.
He was blessed with both an amazing teacher and - more importantly - an amazing instructional aide. She listened to my explanations of how to teach him to use the system and was diligent in application.
The short-term result? Within a few weeks he was constructing narratives! Single words, put together in a string that told a story. He indicated he had something to say, found the person he was telling about on the ‘people’ page, found the problem, told what he needed to do in response to how he was feeling about the problem on the ‘action’ and ‘places’ pages. And, voila, a narrative that was understood and acknowledged, and that got him what he wanted.
Students with complex communication needs are at risk for impaired narrative skills and have difficulties with discourse. They have very different language learning experiences than their non-disabled peers. They often are not exposed to the same experiences, not read to as much (or at all), and not engaged in as many opportunities to converse (produce narratives). In addition, even if they have access to AAC, they are often provided with much more limited vocabulary than their peers develop.
So, my bottom line — keep working to develop those narrative skills. Use elicitation, modeling, recasting. Use visuals. Interpret what you hear/see and acknowledge it.
Let - encourage - your students to tell tales!