AAC Implementation from a ‘Communication World’ Perspective

July 16, 2020 by - 1 Comment

AAC Implementation from a 'Communication World' Perspective
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AAC Implementation from a Communication World PerspectiveAAC SLPs are a creative bunch and would do anything to help teams get on board with appropriate supports and services. In today’s post, we hear from Elena Feder, who introduces us to the ‘Communication World’ approach. Elena is an AAC SLP at the New England Assistive Technology (NEAT) Center in Connecticut and has a lot to share about AAC implementation. Don’t miss the wonderful planning tool that she shares at the end.

Before we get to that, though, take a look at the AAC Summer Bash that she runs with her colleague and fellow SLP Sarah Brink. In normal times, this is a face-to-face experience but due to the novel coronavirus, it has migrated to an online event. There are a few other things that you might like to know about the AAC Summer Bash.

  1. It’s free!
  2. You’re invited!
  3. You must register by July 17th.

The AAC Summer Bash event is designed for kids of all ages who use AAC and their families, but they are truly opening it up to anybody who wants to participate – professionals, extended family members of AAC users, even people who don’t use AAC or know about AAC but want to be part of an inclusive event. They welcome SLPs and other professionals to join along with their clients, so join in the fun! You can get more information here and you can click here when you are ready to register.


AAC Implementation from a Communication World Perspective

There are a lot of moving parts to AAC implementation, and sometimes it can feel as though it is a juggling act that’s falling apart.  So, let’s take a look at the process one step at a time by first considering, what I call, a person’s “Communication World.” Where is the person communicating?  What is she doing at that time?  With whom is she speaking?  What messages are being conveyed to accomplish a particular communicative function, such as telling jokes, sharing information, or making a comment?  If you take a moment to think about these questions as they apply to you, you’ll quickly realize that they are relevant to all parts of your own daily life.

Now, let’s link these questions back to AAC implementation and apply them to an AAC user.  When determining which words to explicitly model and teach, begin by looking at the individual’s typical schedule.  That schedule translates to the “where” and the “what” of the Communication World.  By physically mapping out, or at least visualizing, the locations in which the individual is throughout the day and the activities in which she is participating, you gain the context of communication.  Initially, these locations and activities should be routines because of the simple fact that they happen repetitively and therefore allow for continuous exposure of new vocabulary.  Fun, exciting, and adventurous locations and activities should be visualized, too, for the mere fact that they are motivating, and because communication is just that – fun, exciting, and adventurous!  Once you know the context, the core and fringe words that are meaningful and important to model, teach, or expect from the AAC user at that time will organically fall into place.

For those of you who have a visual learning style like me, I’ve created an AAC Instruction Plan to add some structure to the Communication World.  I share this Plan with school teams time and time again, and always encourage them to use it as a starting point for implementation.  Pick one, two, or three locations and activities at first, then gradually build upon that.  Sure, our goal is always for AAC to be used all the time, for all messages, with all communication partners, everywhere, but we need to make the expectations manageable in the “right now.”  Think about incorporating AAC into specific academic lessons (i.e. slimy science experiments!) and social opportunities (i.e. giggling lunch bunch!).  The Plan includes a spot to jot down the learner’s objectives and targeted prompting levels so that progress remains on track.

Once again, we all know that AAC should be used across settings.  While the AAC Instruction Plan can certainly be used outside of school, I’ve modified it to be a bit more family-friendly.  This new-to-COVID-19 AAC at Home Planner can help families narrow down the “when” and the “where” of AAC to make implementation more realistic within their busy lives, at least in the introductory phase.  Chatting while at the beach? Yes, please!  While playing a game of Uno with a sibling? Absolutely!  While making a snack with Mom?  Of course, bring it on!  I’ve added a place to specifically write down the location of target words (i.e. Home page Chat à Positive Commentsà “This is cool!”) to build communication partner confidence with modeling.

Adapting, changing, and customizing the template is expected as each AAC user, team, family, and environment is unique.  Whatever you decide to do, or not do, with the AAC Instruction Plan/AAC at Home Planner, I invite you to at least take a deep yoga breath IN and OUT (hey look, core words!).  Recognize that the complexities of communication can be broken down by remembering it is simply the way we make connections with the world.  Now, rather than viewing AAC implementation as a juggling act that is just another task on the long to-do list, I encourage you to perceive it as a naturally embedded component of human life.AAC Implementation from a 'Communication World' Perspective


About the Guest Author

Elena Fader is an SLP/AAC Specialist at New England Assistive Technology (NEAT), an Oak Hill Center.  Based out of Hartford, CT, Elena and the NEAT team support the assistive technology needs of individuals across the lifespan throughout the state and beyond.  Although conducting evaluations is an important part of Elena’s job, her enthusiasm is best sparked when helping AAC users and their communication partners maximize the power of AAC through coaching, training, and supportive community events.


Elena is a salaried employee of Oak Hill.  She has no additional financial or non-financial relationships to disclose related to the AAC Instruction Plan/AAC at Home Planner or other relevant topics.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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