Do's and Don'ts of AAC - Multi-modal communication

AssistiveWare’s David Niemeijer and Jane Farrall teamed up on a Do’s and Don’ts of AAC Poster for International AAC Awareness Month. This blog explores one of the Do/Don’t pairs.
Do respect multi-modal communication, Don't say "And now say it on your talker"
There are many, many ways to communicate.
In a day, you may talk to your family, wave to your neighbour, send an email to a colleague, a text message to your brother, a Facebook message to a friend or perhaps even a letter to your grandmother! We are all, naturally, multi-modal communicators. We use different modes of communication.

Allow any type of communication

And this can certainly be true for AAC users. They may happily use many different modes of communication as well. It may be a combination of vocalisations, words, word attempts, pointing to pictures or photos or objects, sign language, natural gestures, body language, facial expression, as well as their AAC system.
Often they will use the fastest and most efficient means of communication available to them in the moment! All of the methods of communication have their place. All of these methods of communication should be valued, respected and responded to. 
An AAC user may choose to use their AAC system in different situations, yet fall back on less formal communication methods at other times. They may say some words using their AAC system (eg. “I want that”), while pointing to the desired object. They may point to a picture on their visual schedule (eg. “library”), while using body language to indicate they are asking about when library is. Maybe they use their AAC system to say something when their gestures and vocalisations are not understood by their communication partner. There are so many combinations and solutions that can make communication successful.
Nick at school
Nick using sign language and vocalisation, but he also uses Proloquo2Go

AAC is not a test

But, remember, AAC is not a test. If a child has given their message to you (using any means they have available to them), and you have understood them and acknowledged them, it is unfair to then expect them to say it again using their AAC system. Here is an example:
A child verbally says “MORE” and then points to the bottle of bubbles. They have clearly communicated that they want more bubbles. What do you do?
  • A. Push their AAC system in front of them and say “And now say it on your talker!”, now expecting them to generate the SAME message - “MORE BUBBLES”, but this time on their AAC system, or…
  • B. Do you use it as an opportunity to model and expand their language? You pick up their AAC system and say “Oh! You are telling me that … you WANT MORE BUBBLES”, while pressing “WANT MORE BUBBLES” on the AAC system. Or even model more language in a comment like “BUBBLES are such FUN”, or “Let’s blow them UP HIGH”, or “Get ready to CATCH the BUBBLES!”.
Of course, choice B is the best choice! Use every attempt at communication as a chance and opportunity to socially engage and to model language! And respect every mode of communication… it all plays a part in becoming effective communicators!


~ Amanda Hartmann
Amanda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with over 20 years experience working in schools and with families and as a technology consultant. All this has led to a passion for working with children and young adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. She loves sharing what she knows about Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Literacy!

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Comments on
"Do's and Don'ts of AAC - Multi-modal communication"

Laura Bueno's picture

Brilliant :-)

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