Communication is always happening. This means there are always opportunities for modeling Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), interacting and building language. When we start out, making a plan for how AAC can be incorporated into the day can be beneficial. Without a plan, AAC may feel overwhelming. Often the absence of a place to start or finish can lead to people not starting at all! Or worse, starting in one place and never moving on!

This article will help us to look at where and when AAC can happen in a day. It will also consider how AAC is incorporated within routines, as well as adapting to unplanned activities and making changes as needed.

Where can AAC happen?

AAC can be used anywhere! Plan to take AAC with you wherever you go. Plan to make AAC available during any activity.

We may need to take into consideration the different environments where AAC will be used. Perhaps the AAC device screen cannot be seen in bright sunlight. AAC devices may not always be water-proof, so how can communication happen in the pool or at the beach? How is the AAC device accessed if the AAC user’s hands are busy with something else, for example in bike-riding or horse-riding. An alternative in these situations is to use paper-based examples of the AAC system, or to have systems strapped or fixed in easy to access locations.

When can AAC happen?

AAC can be used anytime! If AAC is not available, the AAC user’s communication options will be limited.  If a person who speaks might need to communicate in a given situation, then an AAC user should also have the opportunity to communicate in the same situation. Plan to use AAC during all times and activities in the day. Look at your routine. Plan for how AAC can be incorporated into even those activities that do not happen very often.

How can AAC be incorporated?

Build communication into your daily routines so that working on development of language and communication happens throughout the day.


One simple way to start AAC can be to look at everyday routines. What are some activities that happen during a day or week where AAC can be brought into it?

Perhaps the AAC user participates in making lunch every day. During this lunch preparation, there may be many opportunities to chat and discuss what you are doing. It may present opportunities to target particular words or phrases that are part of the AAC user’s current goals. For example, perhaps the AAC user is working on asking for help, so during lunch, you can model “help” when you cannot open the jar (“help open”), when you need the butter from the fridge (“help get”) or when you cannot find the cheese (“help look”), etc.

Routines can be an easy place to start, as often the language and communication is predictable and familiar. But don’t be afraid to shake routines up every now and then! Lots of engagement and commenting can happen when things don’t quite go to plan, or are done differently. Every routine should be looked at from time to time. What new words and ideas can we build in? How can we continue repetition of language but provide variety that ensures engagement? In the lunch example, it may mean trying new things to make for lunch, or going out for lunch, or inviting friends over for lunch.

Write a list of the common routine activities for an AAC user.  How can AAC be incorporated? What language could be modelled during these activities? How will you extend and enhance the routine with chances to progress language over time?

Beyond routines

Looking at routines is just the start. The more often you consider where and when AAC can be incorporated in the day, the more occasions will arise. Soon you may find that as much communication and interaction happens in the transitions between activities as during the activities.

Limited plans

When we only make AAC available and plan for its inclusion during specific times of the day, we are limiting progress in communication. AAC should be always available and used throughout the day.  

A common example seen in schools is AAC used during morning circle, but then not offered consistently during other times of the day. And then during morning circle, AAC users are asked to answer the same questions every day. This limited view on AAC is detrimental to an AAC user who needs far more chances to see and hear his AAC in action. He also needs more engaging reasons to communicate.

Expand and extend your plans for AAC throughout the day, for the best chance of success for an AAC user.

Plan for fun

Sometimes the best communication happens when we are having fun. When AAC users are motivated and engaged, there are more opportunities to interact and build language. Don’t wait for fun to happen - plan for it! Look at your routines and find extra ideas and tricks that can be brought into activities to make it fun.

Unplanned activities

Every now and then, things happen that we did not plan for. This will test both the team and the AAC user to find the words they need to communicate new messages in new situations. Look at it as a great challenge! You may make mistakes as you try to say different messages. The most important thing is that AAC is made available.  There is no way to predict what awesome communication opportunities might arise.

Review plans

Plans will change over time and it is important to often review the ideas and strategies you have for AAC throughout the day. It is important to always plan for positive change for an AAC user, and this will mean changing and extending plans and goals regularly. You may come back to this step many times in your AAC journey.

The next step

Make a plan for AAC and stick to it! This is very important to keep everyone moving forward on the AAC journey.  The more you integrate AAC into the day, the easier and more natural it becomes. Soon you will wonder how you ever did anything without AAC! 

With the team on board and some plans in place, next is “Starting Communication”.

This article is just one in the Learn AAC series about “Setting up for AAC”.

Links & References