Guide to Starting AAC

The Learn AAC Guide is a comprehensive resource for individuals using symbol-based Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). It contains essential elements to help users become successful communicators. Here’s a breakdown of the key sections:

Setting up for AAC:

  • Presume competence: Always presume competence and provide access to AAC without requiring prerequisite skills or age restrictions.
  • Choose a balanced AAC system: Choose a system that balances core words with quick access to fringe vocabulary and the alphabet.
  • Select a grid size: Base the grid size on the user’s visual and tactile capabilities, not cognitive skills or assumptions.
  • Individualize vocabulary and system: Customize the vocabulary and system settings to meet the user’s specific needs.
  • Make AAC always available: Ensure that AAC is accessible in all environments, with options like cases, straps, paper-based copies, and device readiness.
  • Get the team on board: Educate all team members about AAC and their role in AAC learning.
  • Plan for AAC throughout the day: Integrate AAC into daily routines, specifying when and how it can be used.

Starting communication:

  • Begin modeling: Point to words on the system during interactions, not just for requests.
  • Activity-specific vs. using balanced vocabulary: Focus on core words and fringe folders rather than creating activity-specific boards.
  • Look into communication functions: Plan and model words that serve communication functions and expand the user’s language capabilities.
  • Build Communication Partner skills: Teach communication partners to model words, prompt, respond, make comments, and accept all forms of communication.
  • Engage and interact: Choose engaging activities that motivate communication and provide opportunities for modeling.

Building language and communication:

  • Learn about core word teaching strategies: Explore strategies for teaching core words, including planning based on activities or communication functions.
  • Teach Grammar: Consider teaching word combinations and grammar to AAC users ready for this step.
  • Incorporate comprehensive literacy instruction: Combine communication learning with literacy development, including sounds/letters, reading, spelling, and writing.
  • Develop practical ideas for building language: Build a resource of ideas and materials that promote language and communication development.
  • Review and reflect: Continuously review and monitor progress, reflect, make changes, try new approaches, and persist in AAC efforts.

Potential Roadblocks to success:

  • Give up too soon: Don’t give up too quickly; be persistent, plan for success, and celebrate achievements.
  • Lack of support in different environments: Ensure AAC is available in various settings, collaborate with teams, and provide evidence of its benefits.
  • Stuck at choice-making and requesting: Avoid limiting language to choices; model language for various communication functions.
  • Different AAC Systems in one environment: Provide teams with flexibility to switch between systems, as AAC users are often more adaptable than their environment.
  • AAC will stop a person learning to speak: Research shows that AAC can have positive effects on speech and language development and does not hinder the user’s ability to speak.
  • AAC users are required to prove themselves: Presume competence and avoid setting prerequisites before allowing access to a full balanced AAC system.

Note that every AAC user is unique, so flexibility is crucial at each phase of their journey.