The Bridge School
Communicative Competence

AAC System Design: Principles for Communicator Profiles

Principles for Students with an Emergent Communicator Profile

Some AAC systems are designed to emphasize language input.

Some AAC systems and strategies selected for a student with an emergent communicator profile focus on the language input provided to a student while helping them learn how to express themselves. This may be important for a student with more significant receptive language needs. An emphasis on language input ensures repeated exposure to the same words and concepts, which can deepen a student’s understanding of the world and ultimately support their expressive communication abilities. These systems may have a script for the partner to read or follow while helping the student use the tool, or may give the partner organized sets of lists to read through as they offer message options to a student. This helps the adult provide consistent language input while they are supporting the student’s expressive productions and language development.

AAC Systems should originate from a strong understanding of student preferences, current interests, and motivating topics & partners.

AAC systems designed for the emergent communicator should support activity-based interactions as well as topics and vocabulary that is drawn directly from the people, places, and things that the student experiences on a daily basis in their specific classroom environments.

AAC Systems should focus on the "here and now."

Students with this profile are often able to communicate about things that are happening in the present moment but may have difficulty reflecting about things past and/or projecting or imagining things to come.

Principles for Students with a Context-Dependent Communicator Profile

Build upon the familiar.

Context-dependent communicators are often adept at using certain AAC tools or communication modes when talking about a specific topic, with a specific partner, or in a specific environment. These familiar contexts can be the starting point for teaching more vocabulary or different AAC tools and strategies. It can be helpful to think about changing adding one new element at a time, while keeping other contextual supports in place. For example, if a student skillfully uses her SGD to communicate throughout a snack time routine at school every day, opportunities for growth might include: adding more vocabulary to that routine, using the same tools to communicate with a new partner during the routine, teaching a different/more efficient tool to communicate the same information, or moving the routine to a new environment.

Broaden partners.

Context-dependent communicators can be challenged to communicate with new partners. This may require them to use clearer communication modes or aided AAC tools, where they may have been able to use vocalizations or gestures with highly familiar partners. Role-playing different scenarios, training unfamiliar partners, and having a supportive facilitator can help students learn to communicate with different partners.

Incorporate contextual supports into AAC systems.

Identify the contextual cues that support the student’s current communication skills and then see if it is possible to emulate those cues in an aided AAC system. For example, a student who uses pointing or eye gaze in familiar environments may be able to refer photo representations of the same items in a visual scene on an SGD or low-tech display.

Principles for Students with an Independent Communicator Profile

Participatory design of AAC systems is ideal.

Students can make choices of color, layout, location, placement of individual words/concepts, abbreviations, phrasing, main color, decorations, font size and type, materials used to fabricate communication books, symbol set, symbol size, individual symbols, etc.

Emphasize literacy.

Independent communicators should be working towards conventional literacy, and this can be supported in AAC system design by incorporating literacy supports such as options for typing out words and messages and decreasing reliance on symbols. AAC Systems can be designed to support burgeoning literacy skills by incorporating the knowledge the student has mastered into the communication tool, such as using the sight words students know in their communication displays or designing an ABC display with the student’s targeted rimes and blends. Students should also have access to onscreen keyboards for typing for other purposes (word processing, internet searches, etc.).

Increase efficiency.

Systems should include more rate enhancement tools and strategies to make message formulation faster (e.g., iconic encoding, abbreviation expansions, word and phrase prediction). Including phrases for "small talk" can also increase efficiency and help students stay engaged in fast-paced social conversations .

AAC system programming, vocabulary additions, and device care and maintenance should become the student’s responsibility, as much as possible.

Teach student to choose different tools for different communication needs.

At first, educators will help the student to choose certain tools by providing the tool or teaching specific techniques to the student at chosen times to meet the communication demands of the identified activity or interaction. Over time, independent communicators will learn to strategically select the appropriate communication tools, modes, and strategies for different contexts.