Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) use can sometimes be limited. AAC users learn to communicate for one common reason. They learn to make requests. AAC users can get really good at asking for things. They can make requests for food, favorite shows, places to go, YouTube videos, etc. This is an important and motivating reason to communicate. And it may be one of the first reasons an AAC user uses their communication device.
But everyday we communicate for a wide variety of reasons. We call these reasons, communication functions. We can say what we think, ask for things, tell stories and jokes, ask questions, and share what we know and more.
Often AAC users get stuck or stalled at choice-making and requesting.
Impact of being stalled
Three key issues come up when someone is stuck at requesting.
1. Limited conversations
Requesting does not play a big role in most day to day conversations. If all the AAC user can do is ask for things, it is likely to be hard to chat with them. How long would you want to talk to someone who only asked you for things? AAC users can be supported to combine words to say more. With more words and language, AAC users can join in conversations and interactions.
2. Used as a teaching strategy
In some situations, requesting has been used as a strict teaching protocol. Items are withheld until the AAC user asks for them. Sometimes an AAC user is required to ask for the same things frequently. Often the item is removed, just so they have to ask for it again!
These teaching strategies can be stressful for an AAC user. They can make an AAC user dislike their communication tools and distrust their support team. These impact on learning communication in natural social interactions.
3. Low expectations
Some AAC users are only given the chance to make requests with their communication device. Often teams encourage and support this. And AAC users get stuck there. Support teams lower their expectations. They start thinking that making choices is the only thing the AAC user can do. They do not provide the opportunities and teaching to learn to communicate for more reasons.
Plan and consider communication functions
Consider communication functions as soon as you start using AAC. We can move on from requesting when we teach AAC users to use language to communicate for a variety of reasons. Use this to plan goals and activities. Use it to guide 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!
You can print the downloadable Communication Functions poster for a full list of communication functions.
Communication beyond requesting
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!
Links & references
- AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom. List of Communication Functions. [Link to website]
- Langley, Rachael. (2018). Building AAC awareness: Using AAC to express a range of functions. [Blog post]
- Learn AAC Guide. [Link to page]
- Wetherby, A. & Prizant, B. (1989). The expression of communicative intent: Assessment issues. Seminars in Speech and Language, 10, 77-91.