A common limitation in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems and how teams support them is to focus everything on one communication function: Making requests. AAC users can get really good at asking for things. They can make requests for food, favorite shows, places to go, YouTube videos… Making requests is motivating for AAC users and may be one of the first reasons they use their AAC.

Unfortunately, we often see AAC users stalled at choice-making and requesting. This can have many negative effects.

  • Limited conversations: If all the AAC user can do is request, it’s not very interesting to try an have a conversation with him. How long would you want to talk to someone who only asked you for things? And if few people are interested in talking with you, how will you learn to communicate?
  • Loss of trust: Often teams assess the preferences of the AAC user, with the goal of withholding items of the highest preference in order to motivate the AAC user to request them. Sometimes very artificial requesting protocols are used, where the AAC user must repeatedly ask for something he likes, only to have it taken away after a short time so he must request it again. While this can be an effective way of teaching requesting, it’s also an effective way of teaching the AAC user to never let anyone know what he likes, lest it be taken away! This form of request teaching can also be very stressful for the AAC user, and is not a natural social interaction.
  • Low expectations: Often when AAC is introduced, it is with the goal of solving behavior problems caused by not knowing what the AAC user wants to request. Once the AAC user can request and behavior problems are reduced, there is an temptation to think we’re “done” with implementing AAC. This places a very low expectation on what the AAC user can learn to communicate, and the longer he or she is stuck at requesting, the more entrenched this expectation becomes.

Give AAC users the words to share information, tell stories, make comments, tell us what they think; to make real connections with others.

Plan and consider communication functions

We can move on from requesting when we teach AAC users to use language to communicate for a wide variety of reasons. We call these reasons communication functions. It can be very useful to consider communication functions as we plan goals and activities for AAC users. It can help guide us as to what words may need to be taught and modeled. We can see what words are needed beyond those for choice-making. These words can open up a world of language for an AAC user!

For a full list of communications to consider for an AAC user, find the Communication Functions in the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom.

Overcome the Roadblock

Don’t get stuck in requesting! Move on and give language to AAC users! There is so much to be achieved when we give a voice to AAC users!

With the help of the Learn AAC Guide you can see where you are in establishing AAC for an AAC user. This may help you overcome any roadblocks stopping you from success!