Adapting to different AAC systems

5 minute read

Teams often feel blocked when different Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems are being used in the environment. Teams need to get to know the systems. They need experience and flexibility to quickly switch between systems.

In some environments, there may be different Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in use. Every person who uses AAC is different and will have different communication needs. They may use different AAC systems.

People supporting those AAC users can feel stuck. How can they integrate different systems of AAC into the daily routine? How can they swap from one system to another? How do we model on more than one system? Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone used the same AAC system?

One size does not fit all

It is important to realize that one size or type of AAC does not fit every person. Every individual needs an AAC system based on their communication and access needs.

Finding the right AAC tool starts with:

  1. Selecting a balanced AAC system based on core words, fringe vocabulary and an alphabet.
  2. Starting with a grid size that the AAC user can see and touch.
  3. Then, personalizing each AAC system for the individual.

When we follow these steps, we find that each AAC user may need a different AAC system. While supporting different AAC systems in the same environment may not be the easiest choice, it is definitely the best choice. Especially, when AAC users have different needs. AAC systems must meet the needs of their users.

Here is an example of a typical classroom. One student may have a physical impairment and he needs to access his AAC system using eye gaze. Another student may use a communication book. Other students may have an AAC tools on iPads. However each of these students have a different grid size depending on their vision and fine motor skills. Each student has a different system. The picture or symbol supports may even be different.

Know all the AAC systems

Teams need to take the time to get familiar with the AAC systems being used. This may involve “playing” with the vocabulary. They need time to become more comfortable with the AAC. And confident with where words are located.

Another strategy is to plan for words to model for a particular activity. The AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom Core Word Planners have suggestions for many common school and home activities. Make guides for where the words are on each system. These can be used for practice and for reference during the activity.

It can also be helpful to have paper-tech versions of the AAC systems. Print and laminate the home page and some key pages. Everyone can use these to practice modeling words. Proloquo2Go Crescendo Core word boards are handy to print out and practice on.

The better we know the systems, the more we can model words and sentences. Modeling language across different AAC systems will take time. At first it may be slow. But the more we do, the easier it will become. With time and confidence comes flexibility. The flexibility to fast switch from one AAC to the next.

Get the team on board

It helps to have the team on board.

Support all members of the team to get to know the AAC system. Have regular meetings to discuss successes and difficulties. Have practice sessions to take time “playing” with the system. Dedicate 5-10 minutes of each staff meeting to finding words on the AAC systems. Practice chatting using the AAC.

Can different team members help model across different devices?

Generic AAC system

Often it can sometimes help to have a generic AAC system. This AAC tool can be used across all AAC learners to model language during activities. Standard AAC tools are most valuable when individuals don't have their own personal AAC yet. They can be used to model in group situations.

Some may choose for a generic AAC tool to be high-tech. They can project it onto a white board for all to see.

Some may choose to make paper variations of AAC tools to be used with all. These can be attached to desks and table tops, or made into a large posters. Proloquo2Go Crescendo Core word boards and Core word posters can be useful.

Whichever generic AAC tool you choose, it should include core words, with some access to fringe and the alphabet. A generic AAC system should not replace other AAC in the classroom. Direct modeling should also be done on the individual's AAC system as often as possible.

A generic AAC system can be used in any environment - for example at school, at home or in the community.

Everyone can use it!

Everyone in the environment can use the AAC systems. Peers or siblings can be great supporters of different AAC systems. Get them on board finding words across the systems. We often find that AAC users can learn to communicate a message in a variety of ways - sometimes that includes borrowing their friend’s AAC to say something!

Overcome the Roadblock

Get to know the different AAC systems! Be flexible! And most importantly, give it a try! There is so much to be achieved when we give a voice to AAC users!

Take the test: Check the Learn AAC Guide to see where you are in establishing communication for an AAC user. This may help you overcome any roadblocks stopping you from success!

Links & references

  • AssistiveWare. Proloquo2Go Crescendo Core word boards. [Link to print PDF file]
  • AssistiveWare. Proloquo2Go Crescendo Core word posters. [Link to print PDF file]
  • Copley, J., & Ziviani, J. (2007). Use of a team-based approach to assistive technology assessment and planning for children with multiple disabilities: a pilot study. Assistive Technology, 19, 109-125.
  • Romski, M., & Sevcik, R. A. (2005). Augmentative communication and early intervention: Myths and Realities. Infants and Young Children, 18, 174–185.
  • Samperi, Amanda. (2019). How I Do it: Teaching the AAC helpers. [Blog post]


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