Don’t limit communication with topic boards: Use your AAC

6 minute read

Use core words and fringe folders, rather than creating topic boards for everything.

We are starting Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). We have begun personalizing the vocabulary. Now we also need to think about other ways to set up the vocabulary for activities.

About topic boards

For many years, topic boards for communication have been developed and used with AAC users.

Activity board for Mealtime- made in Proloquo2Go
Topic board for mealtimes

A topic board contains the specific words that may be needed for a particular activity. They are often printed out as a light-tech board. They might be used in place of a full AAC system. They include quick phrases, as well as single words. Teams may spend many hours creating folders of different activities.

Many AAC tools include some example topic boards. Proloquo2Go includes a few examples within the Crescendo Vocabulary. PODD - both digital and print variations within the simPODD app - contain some topic boards.

Using some topic communication boards can be appropriate in some activities. But it should not replace use of the full AAC system.

5 limitations of topic boards.

There are 5 main limitations of using topic boards with AAC users.

Activity board for bowling
Topic board for bowling

1. Limit language opportunities.

Firstly, we can only talk about those things included on the topic board. At bowling, we can use this board to talk about the game. However, how can we speak about other topics? Will we only talk about bowling during our bowling trip?

Topic boards may limit language opportunities.

Activity Board for Horse Riding
Topic board for horse riding

2. Limit learning of words in the AAC system

Topic boards are often printed as paper boards. They are brought out during an activity and then put away again. AAC users may learn how to say things on the board. But they are not learning where they can find these words in their AAC system. An AAC user may learn the word “horse” on their horse riding board, but they cannot find “horse” in their communication device to talk about their cousin’s horse.

Topic boards may limit learning of words in the AAC system.

3. May not support core word learning and motor planning

Topic boards, may or may not have included some core words. If core words were used, they may not have been placed on the boards, in consistent locations, from one board to the next. Different locations of words on boards can make it harder to develop a strong motor plan, to find words quickly and easily.

Topic boards may not support core word learning and motor planning.

Activity-specific board for Bubbles
Topic board for bubbles

4. Stops language generalizing from one situation to another

Topic boards give a person very specific words to use in a specific situation. Therefore, they may not get the chance to see those words used in different places, for different activities. How can they learn about the power and flexibility of language? For example, perhaps an AAC user has learnt to point to “blow” and “pop” on a topic board for “bubbles”. What if they need to learn to use the word “blow” when they want to blow out the candles on the cake? Or they need to use the word “pop” to describe the sound the balloon made?

Topic boards may stop language generalizing from one situation to another.

5. Time consuming

Teams can spend time making topic boards. Making one board for every activity that will be done, can take time.

Making topic boards is time consuming.

Using your balanced vocabulary

An AAC system has a balanced vocabulary when you can communicate for a wide variety of reasons using core words, fringe vocabulary and the alphabet.

Consider how we can use this vocabulary, rather than just topic boards.

We can focus on teaching and modeling words in the AAC system, during any activity! We show where words can be found and how to combine them to communicate real messages in any situation. We can focus on communicating different messages for different reasons.

We do this, rather than creating specific folders or boards for all the different activities we might do.

By using a balanced vocabulary, AAC users have far more words at their fingertips! More words gives them more opportunities to build language.

By using a balanced vocabulary, AAC users can learn where words are, so they can use them later. Try adding extra words to existing folders rather than creating an activity folder.

Topic boards - the right way!

There are times and places where topic boards can be very useful. There are many AAC users who may get their first start at communication using a topic board. This may be before they have their own AAC system.

When you decide to make a topic board, you may wish to consider a few of these ideas:

  1. Use a template, so that common core words can be in the same locations on any different topic boards you create.
  2. If you are using Proloquo2Go, you can use the folder templates and activity templates to create boards.
  3. Have a full core word board, alongside an topic board - just in case you need extra words!
  4. Be ready with the full AAC system, to model other words during the activity.
  5. Have a way for the AAC user to ask for their full AAC tool.
  6. If you are using a printed or digital PODD, remember to flip back from the Activity page. Go back to the start when you want to begin a message for a different reason.

Download Proloquo2Go Crescendo Core word boards from the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom.

Activity-specific board for swimming
Topic board for swimming, created using a Proloquo2Go Crescendo template.

Useful times to use topic boards:

Here are some example situations when topic boards might be useful.

  • When AAC learners start, a few topic boards for favorite activities can really kick start communication. Make sure topic boards are used alongside an AAC system. They should not be the only tool.
  • A printed paper topic board may be useful in situations where having a device is not ideal. For example: outdoor activities like the beach or the pool, or during messy activities like art or cooking.
  • Topic boards are useful when communicators are going into new situations. We want them to say their messages quickly and easily. This applies where they will be talking to unfamiliar people. For example, community outings, ordering food at a cafe, buying a train ticket, giving a speech at a meeting, etc.
  • Boards are ideal when AAC is not available.

Start using balanced vocabulary

Using your balanced vocabulary to build language is powerful for AAC users. Use topic boards in specific situations but not for everything.

Follow the links below for more strategies to get communication started:

Links & References


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