Start modeling

Modeling means you point to words on the AAC tool as you speak. Model regularly throughout the day. Model different reasons to communicate - not just requests. Model in conversations and natural interactions.

Once you have set up for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), it is time to get started. The most valuable strategy we can use for AAC learners is Modeling. Modeling is also sometimes called Aided Language Stimulation, Aided Language Input, or Natural Aided Language.

Modeling is a strategy that should be used throughout the AAC journey. Once we learn to model, it will be something we will use regularly to support the AAC learner to learn language.

This article will talk about the specifics of modeling and how we can do it to best support the language development of an AAC user. It will also cover some tips and tricks when modeling and how to overcome any challenges or concerns.

What is modeling?

Modeling means that we use the AAC system to talk to the AAC user.

All AAC learners need to see what it looks like, to communicate using their AAC system in real conversations.

We point to words or press words on the AAC system as we speak.

By modeling words in everyday situations, we help an AAC user to learn what these words mean. It is a way to show an AAC user where words are in the AAC system and how they can be combined to create messages.

Start small

When we first start modeling, it can be difficult and feel clumsy. But remember to just give it a go: any modeling is better than none! We start small and build up our skills at modeling each day. Focus on a few words to model at a time. Every time we model, it will get easier. The most important thing is to start!

Why is modeling so important?

AAC users need to see their AAC system in use. We don’t expect any child to learn to talk without seeing or hearing the adults around him talking. Nor should we expect someone who needs AAC to figure out how to use their AAC system, without seeing others using the system to communicate. When we model, the AAC users sees their AAC system being used to communicate real messages in real situations. An AAC user needs a great amount of input before we can expect them to use AAC reliably.

When an AAC system is “not working” for a user, the team should look closely at their modeling. It can be a lack of modeling that is affecting progress and success of communication.

Illustration with people in front of a big iPad pointing at symbols and a big arrow coming
When we model, the AAC users sees their AAC system being used to communicate real messages in real situations.

More questions about modeling

Who should model?

All team members should model with an AAC user. Even peers, class mates and siblings can model AAC. Teams working together to model will bring more opportunities and success for the AAC user. Support and encourage everyone on the team to be comfortable and confident with modeling.

When do you model?

Modeling can happen anytime, especially when AAC is always available. You can model all the time, not just during speech, snack, or morning circle. Any time you would talk to other learners, you can also model to a person using AAC. Modeling real messages in natural interactions and conversations is a valuable way for AAC users to see the power of meaningful communication.

How often should we model?

We must model as often as we can! Think about how long it will take the AAC user to learn how to use their AAC system if we only show them for a few moments a day or week?

What system can you model on?

There are no right or wrong answers here. We should model on the AAC system that is available. We may model on the high-tech system or a light-tech variation of it. We may model on a class sized poster.

Teacher Pointing To Model Words On Core Word Poster In Classroom
Teacher is pointing to words on a core word poster to model in a classroom.

If the AAC user allows, you can model on their system. Of course, it is best to model on a system that closely resembles the system the AAC user uses - that way, the user is seeing the same symbols and navigation he or she will need to use. However, it may not always be possible to use an identical system. You may be modeling for a class full of students using different systems. Or you may not be able to afford two of the same high tech system. In these cases, use what you have available, and follow up when possible on the AAC user’s own system. This may help him “map” what you’ve modeled on your system onto the location, so he can find it on his own system.

How many words do we model?

Typically, we match our modeling to the language level of the AAC user; meaning we model one or more words than the AAC user is currently using.

  • If an AAC user is just starting out, they may not yet be using any words on the AAC system. Perhaps they have started pointing to one word at a time. For these AAC learners, you might model single words, with some 2-3 word sentences.
  • For AAC users that are beginning to use 1-2 word combinations on their AAC system, try modeling 3-6 word sentences.
  • Then for AAC users are already producing many different messages on their AAC system, we can model longer sentences. We can also show them how to join ideas or even model grammar and complex sentence structures.

What words do we model?

We can model both core and fringe words on our balanced AAC system. We can model specific or general words that will be powerful and effective for an AAC user, within an activity. We can model different words to help them communicate for different reasons. We must give AAC users the chance to learn the words to do more than request. We should model comments and thoughts, rather than just asking lots of questions.

It is most important to select words that are both meaningful and motivating to the AAC user. Model words and word combinations that will occur often, so there are many opportunities for the AAC user to see them modeled.

The AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom was developed to help teams find words that can be modeled across a variety of situations. Please join the classroom today for many useful ideas in the Core Word Planners on what words we can model.

Modeling in PODD

We also show words and language when modeling using PODD. There are specific strategies for how you can model with either a paper or digital PODD, using simPODD. Learn more about how you can use simPODD to talk together.

Modeling key words, not full sentences and grammar

When we start out, we don’t need to model every single word we say. We may not model the exact correct grammar.

Instead, we focus on modeling the key words in a sentence. We target the most important words needed to convey the meaning of the message. If I model this sentence : “ I GO SHOP GET BANANAS”, even though it is not grammatically complete, the general message of the sentence can be understood. Especially if I say it as I am telling my friend about my morning.

Key words is a powerful way to demonstrate how we start combining words to build sentences and language, without the demands of having to know the grammar. Unfortunately when we first start modeling, we can become worried about not demonstrating correct grammar.

Modeling key words before full grammatical sentences makes sense - this is how the AAC user will develop their language. They are likely to say and communicate to us in key words, before they start composing sentences, much the same as how all people develop language! In time and with more modeling, they can develop the ability for more precise grammar, as long as they have an AAC system that allows for this grammatical development.

Give a correct verbal model

When you are modeling on the AAC system, it is okay to use the AAC system to model 1-2 words (or however many are needed), while speaking the complete sentence aloud. For example, you could model on the AAC system “I go shop get bananas”, while saying “I went to the shops to get the bananas” with speech.

Model correct grammar

It is also okay to model the correct grammar at the right time for the AAC user. For example, if the AAC users says “I go shops” on their AAC system to talk about the weekend, then this may be a perfect opportunity to model. We can show how to use grammar supports to find the word “went”, or to model little words like “to” and “the” on the AAC system. Model "Really?; you went to the shops on the weekend!?".

Remember, you’re modeling the next step the AAC user needs to learn.

8 common problems when modeling

Let’s look at some common challenges when modeling, and possible solutions.

1. Stuck modeling every word

Sometimes we can get stuck if we try to model every word that we say. This makes modeling overwhelming. Just point to the key words in the sentence, not every word.

2. Making mistakes when modeling

Often we make mistakes when we model. We point to the wrong word. It is fine to show an AAC user that we all get it wrong sometimes when we are talking! The more you model, the easier it will get. Just keep going.

3. AAC user not looking

Sometimes the AAC user may not be looking at you or the AAC system directly when you are modeling. This doesn’t matter. All learners take in information in different ways. Some learners cannot look and listen at the same time. Others, use peripheral vision to watch modeling. Still others may only be able to watch us part of the time. Incidental learning can happen over time, even without focused attention. We should keep modeling even if the AAC user isn’t looking - this keeps us in the habit of modeling, and gives us more practice finding words.

Model Words On Proloquo2Go During Book Time
Modeling words on Proloquo2Go during story time.

4. AAC user does not respond

Often an AAC user may not respond to the model that has been provided. One of the hardest things we need to learn to do as we model, is to model without expecting anything in return. We may model a word for an AAC user. Then we can pause to give them time to take up their turn. If they do not respond, we can model the next words and continue the activity. Some AAC users need to see and hear words many times before we can expect them to use them to communicate with us.

5. Stuck modeling requests

Often we get stuck modeling the language of requests, eg. “I want__”. There is so much more to communication than simply asking for things. It is important that we model language to communicate different messages for different reasons.

6. AAC user does not need to copy

An AAC user does not have to copy or repeat the words you have modeled. They can listen and see your words, but they don’t need to repeat them. Look for engaging and fun ways to give them a chance to say something in motivating activities, rather than demanding they copy you.

7. Don’t stop modeling

As an AAC user starts using the AAC system more independently, often we see modeling around them stop or decrease. Don’t stop modeling! Instead, start modeling longer sentences. Start modeling grammar. Start modeling language for different communication functions.

8. One model is not enough

One model is not enough. We may need to model a word or word combination many times before the AAC user should be expected to use it. Model and then model again!

Documenting how modeling works best for each individual AAC user will help all team members model most effectively. We know that modeling takes time and practice, but the benefits are great.

Start modeling

Modeling is part of the AAC journey that will be ongoing. Modeling is a key strategy to help an AAC user learn language and real communication. Start modeling today.

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

Now that we have started communicating using AAC, next we can consider ways to start Building Language and Communication.

Links & References