The Bridge School
Communicative Competence

The Learning Environment

At The Bridge School, AAC interventions focus on participation within the natural environment of the school. AAC interventionists provide services within the classroom environment, working alongside the special educator and related service providers. Specific student skills are targeted in the context of on-going instruction with the natural partners in that student's typical school day (e.g., instructional assistants, classmates, teachers, etc.). In this way, authentic participation and real-life interactions can be supported.

Learning environments can impact communication for learners with different communicator profiles.

Emergent Communicators

Familiar, predictable environments and partners work to support and enhance the development of communicative competence skills for emergent communicators. Physical characteristics of the environment, such as the location of objects, seating arrangements and the location of communication tools within a classroom, can enhance or detract from a students' development of new skills. For example, the way classroom materials are displayed can entice students to initiate interactions and express their preferences.

At The Bridge School, classroom learning and play centers and activity spaces are clearly defined and do not change on a daily basis. Students have a regular desk/computer station for independent work. Communication tools are situated in consistent locations to promote regular use. They are placed within play-based centers and/or displayed on classroom walls and tables within easy reach. Bridge staff members introduce new materials and technologies as well as unfamiliar partners gradually to give emergent communicators time to adjust to changes in the environment. Also, they adjust learner demands and expectations in new, unfamiliar environments (e.g., field trips).

Context-Dependent Communicators

The context-dependent communicator often depends on familiar partners and environmental factors to help them communicate effectively. At The Bridge School, care is taken to create consistent, clearly-defined learning environments to support context-dependent communicators as they work to build their communication skills. Staff members make an effort to provide access to large vocabularies and to develop each student's literacy skills so they can use technologies that enable them to talk about whatever they want, whenever they want. In addition, staff place classroom materials and learning centers in predictable locations for students so they can use them while communicating (e.g., signaling towards the lunchbox bin to indicate a request to have a snack). Many of these students are unable to access sufficient vocabulary across a wide range of environments so familiar partners often supply important shared background knowledge to enhance interactions.

Independent Communicators

Environmental considerations for independent communicators include broadening the number of environments students encounter across the school day, engineering environments for physical access to activities and materials and working with the student to select preferred AAC and AT tools and strategies for different environments and activities.


Beukelman, D. and Mirenda, P. (2013). Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Supporting children & adults with complex communication needs. Fourth Ed. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Blackstone, Sarah W. & Hunt-Berg, M. (2012). Social Networks: A Communication Inventory for Individuals with Complex Communication Needs and their Communication Partners.

Collier, B., McGhie-Richmond, D., & Self, H. (2010). Exploring communication assistants as an option for increasing communication access to communities for people who use augmentative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 26, 48-59.

Kent-Walsh, J., Binger, C., & Hasham, Z. (2010). Effects of Parent Instruction on the Symbolic Communication of Children Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication During Storybook Reading. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Vol. 19, 97-107.

Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2014). Communicative Competence for individuals who require augmentative and alternative communication: A new definition for a new era of communication? Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30:1, p1-18.