When introducing AAC to students, many of us consider the role humor plays in encouraging social relationships by utilizing jokes already in the devices or programming our own. Some people even integrate this with academic goals (e.g., reading, spelling, computer skills) and encourage the student to find a joke-of-the-day on the Internet. We know that, for some children and teens, the response from their peers is highly motivating and increases desire to interact.
Humor, however, is more than a good joke. As I described above, it is found in those unexpected situations and comments – purposeful or accidental.
Just like other language and social skills, the humor of children develops over time. At a certain age, they make up jokes that don’t make sense, produce strings of rhymes using words that do not exist, assign names to people and things with words that do not relate to each other (e.g., “It’s a leafy blanket.”, “It’s a carpet blanket.”) and make up silly phrases (“Too tass cuckoo clock”). All of which cause them to dissolve in fits of giggles while we shake our heads.
Much to our dismay, children of a certain age find bodily functions really funny (sometimes extending to an age much older than we’d like). Production of these during class is certainly inappropriate and there are consequences for doing so. However, we must not be naïve enough to think that they are not produced to a chorus of chuckles and guffaws elsewhere in the school. Before we remove these from the device, consider (based on the student’s needs and goals) the opportunities that this humor provides for sharing silliness with peers, as well as the teaching of social appropriateness and experiencing consequences.
Augmented communicators may have more limited opportunities to practice and use their humor. This could be a result of the rather structured nature of the school day. However, students who speak still have time to practice their humor when not engaged in academic activities (and sometimes during). Could it be that augmented communicators often spend more time communicating with adults who do not share their sense of what is funny? Could it be that more of their communication is directed by adults or that they don’t have access to the language they need to produce humor?
How do we encourage development of this socially important skill? Here are some very basic ideas.
- Provide time with and encourage the peers to use the device to produce their messages (Partner Augmented Input/Aided Language Stimulation). Funny things will happen given time.
- Produce age-appropriate humor ourselves using their device.
- If students produce humor that is inappropriate for the setting, respond as you would for any other student. Rather than just squelching the student’s developing attempts at humor, setup opportunities for the student to use that humor when it is appropriate so that they learn the difference.
- As adults, let’s consider our response to student’s production of irrelevant messages or, what appears to be, playing with the device. If the production is funny and at an appropriate moment, laugh as you would at any other student’s funny comment. If it is not, respond as you would to any other student.
Let us recognize and encourage humor in students using AAC for our mutual enjoyment and for their future benefit. As E.E. Cummings wrote, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”