Example - Serbia: Early Childhood Intervention (ECI)

Updated by Global Symbols with UNICEF ECARO

toddler with bear

As a special educator and speech therapist in Belgrade, Serbia at the Institute of Mental Health I would like to introduce you to the idea of offering AAC applications and support to children aged 2-5 years, who still do not speak or do not speak sufficiently well to be understood.

Every month we have the opportunity to briefly teach at least 2 families how to use AAC devices. We discuss with parents, the importance of early childhood interventions (ECI) with strategies for the development of communication skills illustrating how important the introduction of AAC can be at an early age.

It is important to clarify to parents that not every introduction of screen based technology is bad, because usually, parents come with a negative attitude, due to the fact other experts have advised them to ban the use of screen time early on. However, it is therefore important to explain to parents that these 'screens' or communication aids are designed to support speech and language development, acting as a channel and a way of supporting the development of verbal communication. That is why test to speech devices are recommended, and if the family accepts the 'communicator' it can give their child a voice, and opportunities to communicate with wider society.

Children are able to stay from three weeks to three months at the clinic, we can introduce software apps such as Cboard, as a strategy to overcome complex communication needs (CNN) and to support parents in:

  • technical managing of the application,
  • providing help to install the application,
  • how to create new boards, and
  • how to define initial goals for the development of communication following the current needs of the individual child.

After that, parents are supported in their interactions with the child. This includes guidance related to:

  • using the app
  • how to recognize the child’s needs in communication
  • how to create initial opportunities for communication, and
  • how to be a good model when speaking to them and using AAC.

using cboard

Parents are then encouraged to use the AAC app (Cboard) in a variety of everyday situations such as nutrition, toilet habits, shopping, transitioning from one place to another or from one activity to another, and how they can spontaneously expand communication skills according to the needs and the wishes of the family and the child’s possibilities.

After the initial training with the family, support will be transferred to the kindergarten group, making sure implementation occurs in daily routines.

Training can also be provided for other family members or other associates who are in frequent contact with the child, siblings, grandparents, therapists, educators, personal companions, or pedagogical assistants.

During the training of families with CwDD (Caregiver Skills Training/CST – WHO and Autism Spekas USA) at the Institute of Mental Health, communication development sessions also offer families the opportunity to learn how to use an AAC app such as Cboard. Professionals continue to provide additional support to the child and parents to further enhance communication skills.

Natasa Sreckovic Milenkovic, special educator and speech therapist, Institute for Mental Health, Belgrade, Serbia