Individualized Vocabulary | A Gift of Speech

AAC Individualized for the individual!

One Size DOES NOT fill all in AAC!

As I set up AAC systems for my students, I started to wonder where these vocabularies came from. I kept hearing about “core language” and observed how most of our AAC programs use some sort of variation of a core system. I have always wanted to know “why” or “how“. So I started researching. Having an understanding of where these vocabularies originated and the various schools of thought has been integral in designing AAC programs for my clients/students.

I recently joined the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) to have access to a wider community and research. They have a wealth of information and research on AAC on their site and in their journal, “Augmentative and Alternative Communication“. This is where I found a great deal of research on Core Vocabulary.

Many of the core vocabulary systems that we use came from the following 2 “Schools of Thought” on Vocabulary for AAC Development:

  1. Language Development
  2. Behavioral

The language development tenet uses vocabulary lists that were created using words from typically developing children. There are quite a few lists that have been created with the first 25-400+ words of a typically developing child. It is interesting to look at these lists and see how they compare.

The second school of thought looks at vocabulary development from a behavioral perspective. They propose that we should create vocabularies according to the wants and needs of the individual.

So which is it? Language Development or a Behavioral Framework?

I have always been that individual that looked at theorists and wondered “can’t we all just get along”. I am also the person who picks 3.5 (even when their isn’t a .5 on a likert type scale). I believe that we need to incorporate both perspectives to meet the needs of our children. There is also research to support this supposition of using typical language development with behavioral needs (wants, needs, and environment of the communicator).

So as you design a functional core vocabulary:

  • Word lists from typically developing children are a good guide, but with your specific student/child in mind!
  • Think about the function of the words.  How will the words be taught and used.
  • Picking words that have meaning. Will words like “it, have, to, etc.”
  • Think ahead! Don’t just pick 5-10 words for now. Pick the first 25-50 words that you want to use so that you are ready to add and grow in front of the child.
  • Early communication may be telegraphic, because functionality is the key!