The Bridge School

Communicative Competence

Useful Frameworks for Intervention Planning

Current best practices in Special Education and Speech-Language Pathology advocate for student-centered planning and team approaches to intervention. There are several widely used frameworks that help to guide intervention planning, briefly described below*. At The Bridge School, the inter-professional team includes a special educator, speech-language pathologist, assistive technologist, occupational therapist, parents/caregivers and the student. This team considers factors related to the student, teacher, environment and the AAC/AT tools a student uses. The Bridge School team uses this framework to help set goals and review progress in communicative competence and educational domains.

Student Considerations: Factors inherent to the student

  • Are there health issues or medications which impact learning and participation?
  • Does the student have sensory needs (visual or hearing impairment, tactile defensiveness, etc.)? What assistive technologies/strategies/supports does student require to support sensory needs?
  • What are the student’s current functional physical abilities? (e.g., hand use, gesture production, independent mobility, etc.).
  • What is the student’s current level of language comprehension and what strategies may support comprehension?
  • Does the student pay attention to instruction across the day? What kinds of supports does the student need?
  • Which activities, partners and materials are most motivating for the student?
  • What are the student’s current communication skills, abilities, levels of participation? (See Assessment section.)
  • What are student’s current and long-term goals? Family goals?
  • Has the student identified his or her own goals?

Teacher Considerations: Things instructor does to support learning

  • What materials does the student need to learn?
  • What levels/types of prompting should instructor use?
  • What kind of language input should instructor(s) use?
  • What size of instructional group is optimal for this student?
  • What teaching strategies best support this student’s learning and participation?
  • How does the student react to familiar vs. unfamiliar partners?
  • What modifications in behavior does instructor need to make for this student (clothing type, tone/loudness of voice, ways of presenting materials, etc.)?
  • What kind of pacing is necessary to allow student participation?
  • What strategies does instructor need to use to optimize the student’s participation in different contexts (small groups, outside, with typical peers, with unfamiliar partners, etc.)?

Environmental Considerations

  • What environmental modifications does the student require (lighting, background noise, etc.) to participate and learn in different environments and across activities?
  • How does the student’s ability to participate or demonstrate a particular skill change in different environments?
  • What strategies can help the student adapt to unfamiliar situations?


  • Which AAC/AT tools does the student currently use that support learning, communication, social interaction and classroom participation?
  • Are different tool more or less effective in different contexts? (classroom, playground, home, etc.)
  • What kinds of demands do these AAC/AT tools place on the student? Family? Staff? Communication partners?
  • How do the demands of using the AAC tools and strategies impact learning goals?
  • How do the demands of using the AAC tools and strategies impact the quality of interactions?

*As noted above, there are other frameworks that The Bridge School staff find useful.

Intervention Program for Building Communicative Competence

Light and Binger (1998) developed a 7-step intervention plan for addressing communicative competence skills. Their instructional procedures are:

  1. Specifying the goal and complete baseline observations
  2. Selecting vocabulary and prepare AAC systems
  3. Teaching facilitators strategies to support the learner
  4. Teaching target skills to the learner
  5. Checking for generalization
  6. Evaluating outcomes
  7. Completing maintenance checks

Tri-Focus Framework

The Tri-Focus Framework identifies three interrelated components: the Learner, Partner and Environment (Siegel-Causey and Bashinski, 1997). The learner refers to the individual with complex communication needs and considers levels of responsiveness, current communicative development, and challenging behaviors. The partner refers to individuals who engage with the learner. Partner considerations include strategies to facilitate interactions and teach communication strategies. The environment refers to the physical and social features of communicative settings, and any barriers and/or supports inherent in an environment that impact the student.

Student-Environments-Tasks-Tools (SETT) Framework

Joy Zabala uses the SETT Framework to enable multidisciplinary teams in school settings to collaborate throughout the decision making process around assistive technology supports for students. SETT takes into account factors related to the Student’s needs, interests, and abilities; Environmental factors address different learning settings and partners; Tasks or activity factors focus on achieving educational goals; and Tools (devices, services, strategies) refer to all the supports that promote student participation and learning.


Light, J. and Binger, C. (1998). Building Communicative Competence with Individuals Who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Siegel-Causey, E. & Bashiniski, S.M. (1997). Enhancing initial communication and responsiveness of learners with multiple disabilities: A tri-focus framework for partners. Focus on Autism and Other developmental Disabilities, 12:2, pp105-120.

Zabala, J.S. (2005). Ready, SETT, go! Getting started with the SETT Framework. Closing the Gap, 23:6.