Where do I start?

One of the many things that I have learned about working with children is the need to be flexible.  I might design what I feel is a “perfect” starting place for a child only to find out the level was too high or too low!  Below are some of the things that I process when setting up an AAC intervention plan for a communication team.  But remember one of the most important things in working with kiddos is being flexible.  What works for one kiddo doesn’t for another.  So we need to take our knowledge and experience and make it work for the individual!

What are the individual’s current language levels?

OK, so that seems like a “no-brainer,” but it is essential to have a basic idea of their language level.  You want to be able to set the individual up for success.  This is why it is important to have updated assessments when starting AAC.

As SLP’s and educators, we get new students/clients all the time.  We don’t always have the most up to date assessments or in-depth information on their communication skills.  Knowing more about the individual helps to create an intervention plan that sets them up for growth and success!  These are just a few of the things that I look at when I don’t have an up to date assessment.

  • How are they using communication?  Do they request wants and needs or information?
  • What is their approximate receptive vocabulary level?  Expressive vocabulary?
  • What does their vocabulary consist of?  Is it just nouns, or is it a mix of parts of speech?
  • Do they use word approximations, signs, or any other form of communication?
  • How do they communicate at home?
  • What do they like/dislike?

Creating communication opportunities:

We need to help create opportunities to communicate.  If individuals are already getting all their wants and needs met through gestures or pointing, why would they need their device or choice board?  Now this does not mean we do not use gestures and pointing, but incorporate them with other strategies.

As a parent and educators, we typically have an idea of what our child/student may want or need.  So you may need to play “confused” or PAUSE to create a situation where the individual needs to request or comment.  When I am working with families I warn them that I am going to play “confused” or PAUSE for a response.  The expectant PAUSE is huge for AAC implementation or language growth in general.  We want to give the individual the time to respond.

When the individual doesn’t respond, I use a prompt/cueing hierarchy.  I might give a pause and then give the initial sound or gesture.  I might model on their AAC device.  I typically use a 5-10 second PAUSE and possibly a cue.  If the individual doesn’t respond, then I give them the expected response.

When I started as an SLP, I was like, I am giving them the answers.  YES, you are!  Because if the individual struggles to communicate and you set them up to struggle more, they are not going to be motivated to communicate.  So we use our “confusion” or the PAUSE to give the individual the time and need to communicate, but be ready to jump in to support!

Making it fun!

I like to pick fun everyday activities when I am introducing AAC.  I pick games, books, and videos that the individual finds motivating.  I also use snack or meal times, but make sure this is not the ONLY time you model and use their AAC tool.  I use fun everyday items to model and demonstrate their device or system (remember AAC can be low-tech printables to high-tech devices).  See an upcoming post on activities for AAC!

Please see “creating personalized core vocabulary” for a discussion on how to create an individualized and functional core system for success.








Next, see “Creating Individualized Vocabulary.”