On Full Sentences and Questions in AAC Systems

November 10, 2015 by - 3 Comments

On Full Sentences and Questions in AAC Systems
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A few years ago, we wrote about the role that prestored messages can play (you can see that post here). We discussed the need to provide AAC learners with quick ways to communicate emergency messages, ask questions, and participate in predictable routines, among other things. For linguistically competent users of AAC, having access to phrases and full sentences may not be life-changing but it can cut down on fatigue or speed up conversations. For other AAC learners, however, prestored messages play a much more important role.

People with significant access issues, for example, can quickly become exhausted trying to select words and put them together into sentences. Early on, they learn to evaluate interactions in terms of whether the communicative situation merits the physical and mental energy needed to construct a full response. Often, they opt out, not because they are willful or lazy but rather as an energy conservation strategy. Think about how little you speak when you are running a high fever, have a bad sore throat, or are feeling terribly nauseated. We speak less in those situations because it just isn’t worth the effort or pain. This is something faced many times each day by individuals who have fine motor difficulties, especially those who are just learning to use alternative access, like scanning or eye gaze.

But what about people who are able to directly select messages on their AAC device/app/book but are not yet linguistically competent? They may benefit from prestored messages for a different reason. For them, having full sentences and questions may play an important role in language learning. Because they are still developing their syntax and vocabulary skills, these learners are likely to have thoughts that they can’t adequately convey word-by-word. Typically developing children ask millions of questions when they are preschoolers. “What are you doing?” “Why?” “How come she gets to do it and I don’t?” “When is it my turn?” “What is that?” In addition to getting information about the situation, these kinds of questions serve another important role: They invite language input. When kids ask us questions, we (usually) respond. It’s no accident that they tend to bombard us with questions just at the time when they are ready for more advanced linguistic structures or getting ready to unleash a vocabulary burst.

AAC learners need a way to do this as well.

In this post, we list examples of two other kinds of messages that may be helpful to prestore in AAC systems so that the communicator has a relatively quick and easy way to convey certain kinds of thoughts. Take a look at these and see if any would be helpful for the AAC learners in your life.

Personal Reporting

  • I have something to share.
  • Something happened today.
  • Ask me how I felt about it. [or I’ll tell you how I felt about it.]
  • Ask me when. [or I’ll tell you when.]
  • Ask me who. [or I’ll tell you who.]
  • Ask me where. [or I’ll tell you where.]
  • Ask me what happened. [or I’ll tell you what.]
  • That’s not all. [or There’s more.]
  • Help me fix it.
  • Let’s make a plan for next time.
  • What should I do?
  • I want to talk about it some more.
  • I want to tell someone else.
  • Can we write about it?
  • What do you think?
  • Help me talk about the size of the problem.
  • I need a message for that in my talker.

Comprehension Supports

  • Explain it to me.
  • Tell me a story about it.
  • I want to hear about that.
  • It doesn’t make sense./I don’t get it.
  • Tell me more. Keep going.
  • Give me an example.
  • Tell me something about it.
  • Why is that happening?
  • Can you explain it again?
  • What does that mean?
  • I think there is more to it.
  • What aren’t you telling me?
  • Everyone else seems to know about it.
  • Write it down.
  • Can you add it to my talker?

These aren’t exhaustive lists, of course, but you get the idea. We’re not suggesting that full sentences or questions make up the majority of language options on anyone’s AAC system. That would be far too limiting and prevent them from expressing their unique thoughts. But just as prestored messages aren’t the primary way that we provide language to AAC learners, we shouldn’t avoid totally them, either.

Do you have suggestions for other prestored messages or stories about how these are used by the AAC learners in your life? We’d love to hear about them.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari


  • Janice Ninomiya says:

    Interesting enough article, and I suppose the 2 lists of sentences would be useful for those who have pretty good linguistic competency. Any suggestions on where can I find a list of suggested sentences basic enough for those who are not yet linguistically competent? Of course, I can think I can think of some sort of simple ones myself, but I’d love to see a list of simple communications that would work well on single buttons since they would be used a lot.

  • Kathleen says:

    Early on we used the about me section to add things like – I enjoy catching the bus to the beach with my dad. I’ve got a big girl bed. I like car parks. I am 4 years old. I wear underpants. I am learning to use the toilet. I had farm animals at my party. Etc etc. this has been a hit. It grows as time goes on. This gave our daughter great joy. You really know when you hit the nail on the head with a sentence they’ve been waiting to use. It brings great joy. I just recently realised the sound option in proloquo2go. I have used it to give her access to saying vroom vroom. Bzzz. Yawning, oink oink. She is taking great delight. In terms of a premise sentence I used the cough sound in the following phrase – sometimes I feel agitated with people cough – insert cough sound. I can be sensitive to noise. My daughter is finding great joy in it. Same for good night followed by the yawn sound. Its made me reflect on how much she misses out on. I wish I had thought about the power and joy of saying vroom vroom after you say the word car like other children earlier.

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