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Where to Begin

Considering AAC

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Representing Vocabulary

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Finding Pictures

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Where to Begin

Getting the Team on Board | Engineering the Environment

Communication is a Process - Not a Product
The success of any student's augmentative/alternative communication program is greatly increased when all staff involved embed it's use within everyday programming. Augmentative/ alternative communication implementation should not be viewed as separate from the learning program. Rather, as the educational plan is developed for each student, opportunities for AAC use should be infused into the curriculum. This gives the student real reasons to practice and apply their AAC skills.

Professionals often indicate that a particular student's main challenge is their inability to communicate. While this may be true, we must then ask "Communicate about what?". This question allows us to identify the tasks and situations which need to be set up or "engineered" for communication.

So, where do you begin?

  1. Getting the team on board

  2. Begin engineering the environment

  3. Consider picture representation from the student's perspective

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Getting the Team on Board

For AAC implementation to be successful, we need to have all people that interact with the student aware of and able to facilitate the use of AAC systems and strategies. This is an incredibly challenging process but can be accomplished with careful planning and a large amount of communication between team members. The days when the speech pathologist created the AAC boards/systems down in 'their room' and then handed them to parents and staff have given way to joint ownership of AAC system maintenance and development by wide array of people. How is this accomplished?

  1. Routine collaboration meetings with all staff involved in programming for the students with AAC need to be set up and supported by building principals as well as administration at the central office at least monthly. Some of the best AAC ideas and strategies come from the most unexpected sources.  Meeting regularly pools our resources and provides a wealth of ideas and energy.

  2. Staff need to be trained on a variety of communication systems and strategies.  This can be accomplished by the school speech pathologist, the district assistive technology team, and/or by attending conferences/workshops as a team.

  3. If the speech pathologist can team teach with a teacher in a classroom or resource room to engineer the environment and jointly develop lessons incorporating AAC strategies, then hands-on training ensues.  One year the speech pathologist might schedule their time in the resource room working closely with that teacher, another year the speech pathologist could split their time between music and art bringing AAC strategies into these environments.  AAC needs to modeled and promoted across all settings and what better way than directly working with staff on their lessons.

  4. Staff need to be trained on and provided with the software to support their independent development of lessons and symbols/boards incorporating AAC vocabulary and concepts to support their lessons.

  5. A wide variety of resources should be available to staff to promote their independence in learning about and incorporating AAC. District resources should be made known to all staff, an AAC library of resources in the building should be created, low tech devices should be made available to the classrooms and a method of sharing AAC resources found on the web should be developed.

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Engineering the Environment

The idea of "engineering the environment" comes from the monumental work of Carol Goossens', Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Sharon Sapp Crain, M.S., CCC-SLP and Pamela S. Elder, M.A., CCC-SLP.

These authors present a systematic approach to planning where, when and how to get student's communicating in various environments.

  1. Identify and prioritize communication activities that occur throughout the day.
  2. Develop message sets for each activity.

  3. Depict message sets on communication boards appropriate for the target student.

  4. Place communication boards in the environments where they will be used.

  5. Implement a systematic approach to cueing and teaching the students to use the boards.

The initial implementation phase includes an intensive period of modeling communication board use by the teachers, aides, parents, therapists and other individuals who have significant contact with the students. This approach encompasses using the communication boards both expressively and receptively throughout the day.



For additional information and resources, please see the following books:

  • Engineering the Preschool Environment for Interactive, Symbolic Communication

  • Communication Displays for Engineered Preschool Environments Books I and III

These resources can be found in many local assistive technology lending libraries and/or purchased through companies such as:

Mayer-Johnson (View sample book pages on their website)
Don Johnston Incorporated

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