When someone has communication difficulties, we need to support them to learn and develop language skills. We teach them to use language to communicate for a wide variety of reasons. We call these reasons communication functions. We can define communication functions as the different categories of reasons that we communicate during day-to-day interactions with the world around us.
Modeling communication functions
For an AAC user to learn the language needed to communicate for different reasons, they need to see others do it. When modeling, we point to words on the user’s AAC system as we talk to them during day-to-day interactions. And just like we model to teach vocabulary and different ways to combine words, we also model examples of different communication functions. We can show how we can communicate different messages for different reasons using the AAC. We do this modeling regularly and reliably.
A common limitation in AAC systems and teams’ support of AAC users is focusing only on one communication function: requesting. AAC users can get really good at asking for things. They can make requests for food, favorite shows, places to go, YouTube videos, etc. Making requests is motivating for AAC users. It may be one of the first reasons they use their AAC.
However, there is far more to language and communication than just requesting. There are many more reasons to communicate. Give AAC users the words to share information, tell stories, make comments, and tell us what they think. Developing these skills makes real connections possible.
Plan for different communication functions
It can be very useful to consider communication functions as you plan goals and activities for AAC users. When we consider the reason we want to communicate, that can help us to decide what words may need to be taught and modeled.
The first step is to think about which communication functions to start teaching. The chart below gives examples of different communication functions. Which of these is your AAC user already using? Which do you want to teach next? Which phrases do you think would be most helpful to model?