Technological disintegration is when an augmentative communication device loses its efficacy and function to assist the user with communication. Sometimes, there is an unseen barrier when providing AAC interventions where we misunderstand what appears to be a lack of communicative intent for technology disintegration.
When a child is throwing their PECS book, rather than using it appropriately. When the Dynavox sits on the counter for days on end without being used. Imagine if you were unable to ask for water when you were very parched, or if you did not have the opportunity to ask to do a different task than the one you were currently engaged in. This is a major contributor to technological distintegration. A breakdown in the ability to use AAC devices to mand (request). A few things happen at this stage. The worst and most crucial, is that you give up asking. In turn, this destroys the motivation to want to ask in the first place, and then the child is in a vacuum, devoid of motivation to get needs met. Secondly, you continue to mand, but you do so through negative or dangerous non-vocal behavior to get your needs and wants met. Lastly, other possible AAC interventions become increasingly difficult to implement because of a suboptimal, previous history with other AAC.
One of the most unfortunate, yet most avoidable, causal factors of technology disintegration, especially with electronic AAC devices, is that they don’t get charged, or PECS books get left at home! AAC is not something we only use when we are in school, or are dinner time. Making the device available, and having the child learn that it is always available, is the first step in avoiding technology disintegration. The device should be with the child about at all times, just as we can call upon our vocal speech at any time to engage in a vocal, verbal episode.
The other thing about AAC is that there needs to be training for all parties involved in the intervention. It is not simple enough to place a bunch of pictures in front of a child and expect them to know what to do with them. Furthermore, it is not simple enough to assume that consistency across people and contexts are implemented. Of course, we want the child to be able to use their AAC with anyone, anywhere, at any time, but in the beginning, we need to make sure that all people are implementing the intervention the with the same techniques. It is not so much that everyone in the child’s life needs to have intensive training on working with the AAC device, but it is very important that all parties are consequating the device’s use in a similar way. So if mom requires a sentence strip for PECS (e.g. icon for “I,” icon for “want,” icon for item on a sentence strip and handed to her) but dad only requires the icon for the item, then we are reinforcing two different uses of the device. Sure the function is the same, but the intensity of the training waxes and wanes. Later on, this may be OK, but in the beginning, when teaching how to appropriately use the device, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page with what constitutes an appropriate mand and therein produces delivery of the item.
One major note to keep in mind, is that AAC devices are a child’s words. The child’s brother should not be playing with PECS icons, or listening to music on their friend’s iPad that is for communication. There is a certain amount of respect and care that needs to go into managing AAC devices.
Technology disintegration can occur for many reasons. Sometimes it may be that non-vocal communication has worked for so long, that why should I bother using this “new-fangled” thing. When we see technology disintegration setting in, it is time to intensify the training and usage of the device. It is, however, a balance between making the device functional vs. aversive.
As I always say, as teachers and parents, we need to know our kiddos inside and out, and create meaningful interventions and curriculum to supplement their deficits and accentuate their abilities.