Consider communication functions

There are many reasons to communicate. We call these communication functions. Think about communication functions, so we can plan and then model words that will build language and meaningful communication. We can expand an AAC user’s world beyond choice-making!

For people using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) as an alternative to talking, they need language. Language is about words and sentences - used to speak and listen, and even read and write.

We need language so we can communicate for a wide variety of reasons. We call these reasons, communication functions. They are the different reasons that we communicate every day, with the world around us.

AAC should give communicators words to say what they think, ask for things, tell stories and jokes, ask questions, and share what they know.

Modeling communication functions

To learn the language needed to communicate for different reasons, AAC learners need to see others do it. When modeling, we point to words on the user’s AAC system as we talk to them. We model during day-to-day interactions. And just like we model to teach words, we also can model examples of different communication functions. We can show how we can communicate different messages for different reasons, using the AAC.

Beyond requesting

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.

Find a full list of communication functions in the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom.

Illustration with three people each holding a sign with a symbol on it
We consider the reasons we want to communicate. This helps us to decide what words may need to be taught and modeled.

Plan for different communication functions

It can be very useful think about communication functions as we plan goals and activities for AAC users. We can consider the reasons we want to communicate. This help us to decide what words may need to be taught and modeled.

Think about which communication functions to start teaching. The tables below give examples of different communication functions. Which of these is your AAC user already using? Which do you want to teach next?

Communication functions in Proloquo2Go

This table includes words to model with a core and fringe word based vocabulary, like Proloquo2Go.

Communication Function Core words to model Core words with fringe to model
Requesting want, want that, want different, want more, I want want food, want to play, I want red, I want to watch TV
Protesting not, not that, stop not red, not that game, stop that music
Commenting/ directing get, get it, get that, I get that put in, put it in, take out, take it out make more, make big see, see them give me, give me that get the blue one, put on your hat, make a cake, do more swinging, I see the car, give me my cup please
Asking for information what? what that? where? where go? who? who go? When are we going to shopping? Where is David? Who is going to the party?
Giving opinions like, I like that not like, I don’t like it good, bad, that good, that bad I like chocolate, I don’t like spiders, pizza is good, Mondays are bad
Telling news I go, I see, I eat I went, I saw, I ate I went to the park, I see Dad, I ate rice for dinner on Saturday
Starting a conversation what? what do? I like that, what you like? I go there, where you go? What are you doing on the weekend? I went to the beach I like movies, what do you like?

Please note: You might point to just some of the key words in these examples. However, you can also say the whole sentence as you model. For example: Say “You need to put your hat on", while pointing to “put” and “on”.

For more ideas, we recommend visiting the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom. Here, you will find many planner documents. These planners cover many everyday activities and core words. They give examples for ways to use different communication functions in the activities you are already doing.

Communication functions in simPODD

This table includes words to model with branch starters and expanded words with PODD, using the simPODD system.

Communication Function Branch starter to model Expand to finish message
Requesting I want (to do an activity) break, play, outside activities, eat or drink, swim, TV, music, dolls, toy cars, blocks
Do something (actions) come, make, get, go, give, see, do

Let’s go

for a drive, home, places in the community (select specific place), somewhere in the house or yard (select specific place)
I have an idea (I’d like to) select from categories: places, actions, activities, special events, characters, things
Protesting Something’s wrong hurts, uncomfortable, unfair, angry, hungry, thirsty
Commenting I like this

awesome, cool, exciting, fun, nice

I don’t like this boring, noisy, scary, yucky, bad
Directing Do something (actions) see, look, go, get, give, make, take, don’t
Asking for information I’m asking a question who, what, where, when, why, how
Giving opinions I like this
awesome, cool, exciting, fun, nice
I don’t like this boring, noisy, scary, yucky, bad
Telling news I want to show you something make/made, get, (its in) my bag, (its in) somewhere in the house, go to categories for specific place, people, things.
I’m telling you something Its time to, its already happened,

Go to categories to select specific people, places, activities

Starting a conversation Chat words excuse, please, stop/wait, thank you, hurry up, help, look
I have an idea select from categories: characters, people, places, activities, days and times
Let’s pretend select from categories: characters, people, places, activities, days and times
I’m telling a story (not real) its already happened, its going to happen, its about now, its time to;

go to categories: places, people, days and times, feelings, descriptions

I’m telling you something its already happened, its going to happen, its about now, its time to;

go to categories: places, people, days and times, feelings, descriptions


Start using different communication functions

Looking at communication functions is a valuable strategy for planning AAC goals and targeting words to model.

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

Now that we have started communicating using AAC, next we can consider ways to start building language and communication.

Links & References