Aided Language Stimulation

6 minute read

Aided Language Stimulation is a strategy to support AAC users in communicating. This article looks at what aided language stimulation is, how to do it, and why it is effective in supporting language skills.

What is Aided Language Stimulation?

Aided Language Stimulation (ALS) is sometimes referred to as modeling, Aided Language Modeling, Aided Language Input, or Natural Aided Language. It is an evidence-based technique that supports AAC users to develop language and communication.

During Aided Language Stimulation, a communication partner speaks while pointing to symbols or words on the AAC device. This allows the AAC user to see their device used in authentic situations.

Aided Language Stimulation is a strategy taught to communication partners. It involves modeling or showing language on an AAC device by pointing to the symbols or words. Communication partners provide input in the same “language” we teach the AAC user to output.

It is so important for AAC users to see their device in action. We wouldn’t expect a child to learn to talk without hearing the language around them. So, it’s unrealistic to expect someone using AAC to figure it out without seeing it used in real communication situations. We know this is how children learn language and how immersion supports learning foreign languages—it’s the same for AAC users learning to navigate their device.

Think about when a baby is learning to speak. They watch and listen to people around them speaking. They listen to words and sounds for a long time before they try to speak themselves. Then, they start to explore their voice through babbling before speaking their first words. This is “Language Stimulation” and is accepted as how babies learn language from their caregivers.

Similarly, AAC users need this time to listen and watch the people around them communicating on their device. They show language on their AAC - “and aide” or tool. This is Aided Language Stimulation.

Why should we use Aided Language Input?

Research strongly supports using Aided Language Stimulation. Many studies show that using ALS leads to better results in AAC. Let’s dive into some key points.

Language Development: During Aided Language Stimulation, the AAC user is constantly exposed to language examples using their AAC device. This can lead to improvements in both understanding and also expressing language.

Symbolic Communication: Aided Language Stimulation on a symbol-based AAC device or app like Proloquo2Go, Proloquo, or simPODD shows the AAC user the link between the symbols on the AAC device and the spoken word. This connection helps to develop symbolic communication skills, making it easier for AAC users to express themselves using AAC.

Social Interaction: Including Aided Language Stimulation in social interactions can encourage participation and engagement for AAC users across various settings.

Generalization of skills: When we consistently use Aided Language Stimulation in different situations, it helps the AAC user see how to use their AAC more widely. This can lead to improved communication in different environments, situations, and with different people.

What is the difference between Aided Language and modeling?

Let’s explore the difference between Aided Language Stimulation and Modeling—terms often used interchangeably, with ‘Aided Language Stimulation’ being the more formal choice and ‘modeling’ being a bit less formal.

While the terms are mostly interchangeable, there are subtle differences. Aided Language Stimulation specifically involves speaking while pointing to words on the device. On the other hand, when using the term’ modeling,’ speaking may or may not occur, depending on the AAC user’s preference.

In certain research studies, ‘modeling’ may refer to a behavioral/response approach where an adult models, the child copies, and the child receives a reinforcer. This is different from the concept we’re talking about here.

Whether you refer to it as ‘modeling’ or ‘Aided Language Stimulation’ or use them interchangeably, the key is that, as a communication partner, you’re using the AAC device for communication, just as the AAC user is learning to do. Speak AAC to teach AAC. There’s no need for the AAC user to copy; the focus is on natural communication and interaction. Feel free to use the term that feels most comfortable for you and the AAC user!

5 Steps of Aided Language Stimulation

Speak with AAC - Listen, Learn Understand. When ready communicate back

1. Get the AAC ready.

To get ready for Aided Language Stimulation, start by having an AAC device charged and ready to go. You will have more opportunities to use AAC with the AAC user if you have the device available at all times.

There are two options: you can model directly on the AAC user’s device, or you can use a secondary AAC device.

If you choose the AAC user’s device, always ask for permission first. This shows the AAC user that we know the device belongs to them. We ask for permission to show respect. Keep the device between you when modeling and return the device when you’re finished.

Having a similar secondary AAC device for modeling is ideal. But if you don’t have this, you can also consider downloading and printing paper-based boards as an alternative.

2. Demonstrate language.

Show how to use language on the AAC device by pointing to the symbols or words. Focus on showing key words instead of tapping every button. For instance, if you’re saying, “We are going to the beach,” just tap “go” and “beach.” Similarly, for “I like this song,” tap “like” and “song.”

Model language authentically in real-life situations for various purposes. Model different communication functions such as commenting, giving opinions, refusing, protesting, requesting, asking for help, telling stories, making jokes, and more.

Don’t worry about making mistakes! It can actually be beneficial for the AAC user to see how we fix those mistakes, whether we press the wrong button or go to the wrong page.

3. Provide verbal input.

Say them out loud while pointing to the symbols or words on the AAC device. Listening to the spoken words strengthens the connection between the symbols and spoken language.

4. Wait

Encourage the AAC user to take up their conversational turn by pausing and allowing time for them to respond. You may count to at least 10 seconds in your head. Pause and wait for a response or reply. If the AAC user chooses not to take a turn, that’s perfectly okay; continue modeling. We should never demand that AAC users copy your model or find words on the AAC.

5. Be consistent

Keep the momentum going! Aided Language Stimulation works best when it is consistent. Aim for lots of repetitions with a variety of people in different situations. The more you model, the more language exposure the AAC user receives. This will help to develop both receptive and expressive language skills.

While these are some steps to get going with aided language stimulation, the best thing we can do is to use AAC as much as possible.

Links and References

Beukelman, D., & Mirenda, P. (2013). Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs)

Bugaj, Christopher. (August 2015). Aided Language Stimulation Explained. [Video]

Hartmann, Amanda. Dos and Donts article on modeling. [Blog post]

McNaughton, D., & Light, J. (2013). The iPad and mobile technology revolution: Benefits and challenges for individuals who require augmentative and alternative communication

Millar, D. C., Light, J. C., & Schlosser, R. W. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: A research review.

Romski, M., & Sevcik, R. A. (2005). Augmented input: Enhancing communication development in youngsters

Sennott, S. C., Light, J. C., McNaughton, D. (2016). AAC Modelling Intervention Research Review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41(2), 101-115.


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