Include peers and siblings strategy

Why is it helpful?

-They say things kids say. Their models are more likely to be something your user might want to say.

-Peers and siblings bring variety and are often more interesting than adults.

-They are often natural modelers and comfortable with technology.

-It creates an opportunity to build real relationships and friendships.

-They may also value their peers' opinions more. 

-It gives them a chance to learn about how your AAC user communicates and the AAC system they use.

-They can provide helpful feedback. The AAC user will gain insight and can get practice using strategies to be more explicit. 


-A second device or a light-tech option for peers and siblings is beneficial. It's a must for AAC users who don't want others to use their devices. 

-Have an engaging context. The activity should be the focus, not the AAC.

-Remember that you are not training peers and siblings to be "little teachers". Everyone is equal.

-If you need ideas, ask the peers and siblings for suggestions. The AAC system is a way to talk and connect while doing the activities. 

-Just let them be kids interacting with each other. That's how they'll build real friendships.


Talk like a kid

Why should you do that?

-When you talk like a kid, you're more exciting and interesting. You're more likely to get and keep their attention. You're likely to show the words they might want to use!

-If the AAC user isn't an adult, we're not trying to teach them to sound like one. We want to help them improve language, similar to their peers.


What do you have to do?

-When you're in a classroom or around kids, your user's age, listen to the language they use. What topics do they like to talk about? Are there any favorite sayings? Include some of what you hear in your modeling.

-Don't tell them what's happening next. Model comments, ask real questions and pretend.

Don't be afraid to be silly or gross. Models of complaining words can also go a long way!

-Try to avoid being too repetitive, especially when talking about things that happen all the time. When you say the same thing over and over, it can become background noise. Mix it up! One day you can say, "TIME FOR LUNCH". Another day try "CAN'T WAIT EAT", "FOOD NOW" or "SOMETHING WRONG!"

-If you're struggling, pull in peers or siblings to do some modeling. You can learn from them.


Model keywords

Many people may wonder if they should model using full sentences. If we model complete sentences, we'll slow the interaction down and lose the user's attention. Instead, you can model keywords using AAC and then say the full sentence using speech. 


Use the AAC system to produce a message longer than the user's independent level. That means if your user typically communicates using one word, model 2-3 word messages. If you're just starting and that sounds like a lot for you, that's ok! Model one-word messages. Get comfortable, and you'll be modeling above your learner's level with a little practice!


Expand on the message by saying the full sentence using speech after you have modeled it. This strategy keeps the interaction by going at an appealing pace.

It also allows the AAC user to hear the language within a complete grammatical sentence. As the user's skills develop, you can start to model longer sentences and targeted grammar skills.


Aided Language Input, Modeling, Natural Aided Language, Aided Stimulation - different terms refer to the same strategy

What is this?

• a strategy in which a speaker points to or selects symbols that correspond to their spoken message 

• a way to provide language input that matches a learner's expected language output

• a strategy that happens within natural interactions

• a way to prove skills in the context

• a method that may support understanding for some learners

• something that should occur without expectation of expression of the learner 

• a way to give AAC learners the same thing we provide typically developing speakers (immersion)

• evidence-based practice


Aided Language Input is the one strategy you should implement if you want to see progress for your AAC learner.



It goes by many names, but all the terms come down to using the AAC system to speak to your user. If we want our learners to speak using AAC, we need to show them how it's done! You can do all kinds of therapy, but you won't get where you want to go without this foundation strategy.⁣

The truth is the immersion is what we give our children who speak. Don't beat yourselves up if it seems like more than you can do. Try to do a little. When that feels easy, add a little more. ⁣


Model in natural contexts 

Modeling in natural contexts means to move away from highly structured activities. Instead, model AAC during routines (e.g. when making lunch) and activities (e.g. when playing a game) you would be doing anyway.


Why is it helpful?

-It builds on what your user already knows by applying language to familiar experiences.

-The language you model is expected to feel important to the AAC user. It applies to their life experience.

-The most impressive things are often unplanned so that you can take advantage of unexpected learning opportunities. 

-Generalization is not a concern because we're teaching in real-life situations. 




-If you feel overwhelmed, pick one routine or time of day to focus on to start. 

-Alternatively, choose a pragmatic function (e.g. commenting) to focus on. Try to increase how many times you model in a day.

-Build on your successes. It doesn't need to be perfect. Just connect with your learner using AAC. 


Model with their perspective in mind

One way to get the most out of your modeling is to model with your user's perspective in mind.⁣


What do you have to do?

-Observe the AAC user closely. What are they attending? What do they seem interested in? How do they seem to feel about what's happening?

-Model language on the AAC system that relates to what you observed. You could make a comment that shows their reaction to something that happened. Don't be afraid to model complaints if they seem to be complaining about using other strategies. 

-Watch their answer to your models. Do you notice more attention? A sigh or sense of relief? If so, you're on the right track! If not, that's ok. Keep modeling! 


Why is it helpful?

-It provides a model of language that is likely to be useful or necessary to your learner.

-The AAC user is more likely to pay attention when models relate to them. 

-It shows you understand or want to understand.

-It keeps you focused on their experience, not just your own. Remember, this is all about connection and building relationships. 


Follow the AAC user's lead 

Following your AAC user's lead is a powerful strategy when teaching AAC. 


This strategy is helpful because:

-Everyone is more interested and motivated when they are working on their schedule. All communicators learn to communicate on their schedule before they can follow someone else's. 

-It indicates to the AAC user that they have a meaningful role in the interaction.

-Having control means active participation, and it's essential for learning.

-When you model AAC relating to your user's chosen activity, you will be more likely to demonstrate language that is important to them.

-It will give you insight into the AAC user's interests. You can help grow those interests by offering similar activities in the future.



How can you do it?

-Take a moment just to watch the AAC user. What are they looking at? What do they seem to find attractive?

-Use AAC to talk about what the user is attending to or doing.

-Give your user extra time to initiate or respond. Remember that communication takes many forms. Respond to any communication, not just speech or AAC. If the user uses a different strategy, use AAC to reflect what they expressed.

-Position yourself at the user's physical level and face them.

-Offer choices. Options give the AAC user control and a way to direct the activity.

-If the AAC user gets upset or seems stressed, stop and take a minute to examine again.

Are you still following their lead? Have you started directing things? What are they communicating to you? Recognize their feelings using AAC.

-Your connection with the AAC user is the most important. It's ok if the user loses interest or moves on to something else. You can follow them or take a break. 


Verbal Referencing

Here is another important strategy for teaching AAC: Verbal Referencing.


Verbal Referencing is a method in which a communication partner or assistant describes what a learner is doing and his/her interpretation of the learner's action. Verbal referencing is incredibly powerful for those learning to use AAC when it's used in conjunction with aided language or modeling. 


What to do:

• describe the communication behavior you see

• say what communication behavior means to you

• model the corresponding language on the AAC system


Verbal Referencing means talking about what you see you AAC learner communicating. Many AAC users early in their AAC journey use non-symbolic means of communicating. They use body language, facial expression, gestures.


Some of these "communication behaviors" can be very subtle or highly specific to that individual. Some users may not yet realize that these "communication behaviors" mean something to the people they are interacting with. They also may not know what language on their AAC system would get their plan across more clearly. 


Encourage Initiation

One of the ways to minimize a need for prompts and cues is to concentrate on initiation. It doesn't mean the initiation of any particular word or intent but initiation in general.⁣⁣


Look for any initiation

• closely observe your learner and look for "initiation behaviors".

• for some learners, it's obvious (handing over items, pushing things away). For others, it's subtle (eye gaze to an object, small movements in response to an object).


Teach initiation

• think about how your learner could initiate the use of their system (go-to device, touch book, rails arm, vocalize).

• explicitly include the initiation procedure you're targeting in your models.


Respond to any attempts to initiate

• reinforce communication by always responding to initiation by the learner.

• attribute meaning whenever possible (even if you think it's accidental).

• if you don't understand, say so! Just by responding, you're managing their attempt as meaningful.


Declarative language

How you speak to the AAC user can have a significant impact on how they experience the interaction.


Constant questioning can increase anxiety and make the interaction less pleasant!


You should use comments and statements to model language. Choose words to create a comfortable, appealing interaction. You can talk about the same things, but you have to say them a little differently.


Repetition with variety

Repetition with variety is a teaching strategy in which a target skill or idea is practiced repeatedly, but every time with average differences.


Why is it helpful?

-Repetition without difference often leads to boredom and disinterest. In contrast, repetition with variation can increase curiosity and engagement.

-Learners need multiple presentations and occasions to practice to get new skills.

-Previous experiences can build success and confidence, which support motivation.

-Repetition with variation allows the AAC user to build on what they learned previously. 




-Teaching core words and language concepts using multiple natural contexts. For example, we "go to bed", "make the car go", and "go away".

-Learn to share information by writing a letter to a friend to tell about your vacation, and writing a how-to book about something you know a lot about.

-Use two-switch step scanning to play a game, read an adapted book, and say a message using an AAC device. 


Think aloud

AAC isn't necessarily intuitive. Using AAC needs strategies and problem solving that your user may not discover on their own. We can help them learn by talking about our process aloud. Include "think aloud" while you model.


Some examples are: 

• "I'm going to find my word, I touch."

• "I'm going to speak my message so everyone can hear."

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