How I Do It: Video Read-Alouds with Aided Language Input

November 19, 2020 by - Leave your thoughts

How I Do It: Video Read-Alouds with Aided Language Input
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For beginning communicators, the pairing of storybook reading with aided language input is a powerful combination. Today, Dr. Kimberly Ho, SLP and Director of Speech, Language and AAC Services at Confidence Connection, shares her thoughts on selecting which words to model and also shares a number of video examples.

Modeling for Children with ASD: Which Words Should We Choose?

We know that many individuals with ASD have complex communication needs.  It is estimated that 50% of individuals on the Autism Spectrum can’t meet their communication needs with speech alone (Light, Roberts, DeMarco, & Greiner, 1998).  This is not surprising to clinicians and educators who have seen their caseloads swell with children with ASD who require AAC.

Modeling is the most frequently used instructional method by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who work with children with ASD who use AAC (Clark & Williams, 2020).  Clinically, the intent of providing a model is NOT specifically for the user to imitate the production.  We want to expose the learner to the system and demonstrate the power of communication. The learner is not required to imitate a model, but simply to observe system use in natural communication contexts (Ho, 2018).

Research has demonstrated that only 400 words represent 80% of what we say (Vanderheiden & Kelso, 1987).  This is known as core vocabulary, which includes many parts of speech aside from nouns (e.g., verbs, prepositions, determiners, conjunctions). Learners should be exposed to frequent models on their AAC system of core vocabulary words that can be used across a variety of different contexts (e.g., GO, OPEN, MORE, HELP). The remaining 20% of what we say is called “fringe vocabulary,” or nouns.  Many of our learners with ASD have intense interests that include meaningful fringe words such as TRAIN, LIGHT or BOOK.  When modeling on an AAC system, interventionists should model both core and fringe vocabulary.

Clearly, we need to model core vocabulary words to our learners with ASD.  But the challenge remains, how do we choose which core vocabulary words to target?  Beginning communicators with ASD are concrete thinkers who often struggle with more abstract words such as pronouns (e.g., I, YOU, ME).  It’s best to avoid pronouns at this stage.  Further, some core words are frequently chained by beginning communicators with ASD including WANT and MORE.  For instance, a learner may learn to combine or sequence buttons on a speech generating device (SGD) I + WANT in order to mand for or request preferred items or edibles.  If I WANT is chained with the preferred item/edible, then the learner may only produce that fringe vocabulary item (e.g., CRACKER) in that chained phrase (e.g., I WANT + CRACKER).  This constrains the learner from using these vocabulary words in spontaneous, novel utterances (Ho, 2019).  That is, the learner may use I WANT + CRACKER while trying to label or tact a cracker in a photograph.  In this example, it would be better to teach the core word, EAT which can be generalized to all edibles in the context of mands/requests, tacts/naming, or intraverbals/answering questions, as the learner’s language grows.

AAC systems are providing more efficient access to core vocabulary words.   Single words are the building block for spontaneous, novel utterance generation (SNUG) which allows a learner to communicate anything they want in the most efficient way (Hill, 2020).  On the other hand, pre-stored utterances (e.g., I WANT + CRACKER) limit what a learner can communicate. While pre-stored utterances allow for fast and efficient access to phrases, they do not allow for SNUG.  For this reason, interventionists should mainly model use of single words, including core vocabulary, in order to promote SNUG.

Storybook reading is a natural opportunity for interventionists to provide models of both core and fringe vocabulary. As mentioned above, learners with AAC are concrete thinkers who may struggle with comprehension.   Visual supports are recommended for individuals with ASD (Rutherford et al, 2020) for many reasons including to support communication.  Pictures in storybooks provide visual supports for language concepts and can be used as a tool to teach core vocabulary words.   Interventionists should model core words along with motivating and concrete fringe words based on the scenes depicted on each page.  A number of video models have been created for interventionists and caregivers to help teach functional vocabulary to beginning communicators with ASD.   See videos below:

Singing with manipulatives is another motivating means to model core and fringe vocabulary on a learner’s AAC system.  Just as visual scenes in storybooks can be used as visual supports to teach language, visuals can be used while singing familiar songs.  Video models were created using Felt-e-Boards. (For more information on using Felt-e-boards for remote therapy, contact felteboard{at}  See videos below:

In this time of COVID, interventionists are often providing instruction remotely to their clients and students with ASD.  Videos are a motivating tool for teaching core vocabulary words that can be used across contexts.


Clark, K. A. & Williams, C. D. (2020).  Instruction Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication Supports: Description of Current Practices by Speech-Language Pathologists Who Work With Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29, 586-596.

Hill, K. (2020) (Augmentative and Alternative Communication Decisions). Retrieved from

Ho. K. (2019, March)  AAC for ASD: Tools for Communication, Language and Social Skills.  Invited pre-conference seminar at the meeting of the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia conference, Richmond VA.

Ho, K. (2018, November) Modeling versus Prompting: A Comparison of Two Intervention Strategies for Access to Aided Language for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Paper presented at the meeting of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Conference, Boston, MA, November 2018.

Ho, K. M. (2016, November 3). AAC and ASD: Beyond Scripting.  Retrieved from

Light, J., Roberts, B., De Marco, R., & Greiner, N. (1998). Augmentative and alternative communication to support receptive and expressive communication for people with autism. Journal of Communication Disorders, 31, 153-180.

Rutherford, M., Baxter, J, Grayson, Z., Johnston, L., & O’Hare, A. (2020) Visual supports at home and in the community for individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A scoping review. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice. 2020 Feb;24(2):447-469. doi: 10.1177/1362361319871756. Epub 2019 Aug 26

Vanderheiden, G. & Kelso, D. (1987) Comparative analysis of fixed-vocabulary communication acceleration techniques. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 3, 96-2061.


You can learn more from Dr. Ho here.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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