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Speech-Language Pathology

Reliable Skills Checklist: Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC)


The following skills should be reliable before referring for an AAC evaluation. If they are not reliable, then an AAC evaluation will only tend to reveal the need for further focus on these fundamentals. It doesn’t take an AAC Specialist to report that observation.

The question is “How reliable?” When an AAC system cannot rely on these skills, then it is just a training tool, and most actual AAC systems do not make good trainers for these fundamental skills. While room to grow is a necessity, and stretch is good, strain is bad. An appropriate tool will scaffold these in balance. So, if these essential skills are not in place (~90%), then there are better assistive communication materials whose sophistication would match the user’s projected capabilities and growth opportunities.

Reliable Skills Checklist for AAC

Skill Needed Present Level
Name Description Describe or List %
Joint Attention Intentional, purposeful behaviors (e.g., voice, gaze, touch) directed to another person with intent to communicate
Reinforcers A number of objects, people, and events known to be reinforcing to the student
Unambiguous selection (for cause and effect) Consistent, understandable signal (reaching, vocalizing, and so on) to indicate wanting more of a known reinforcer
Object scan: sight or hearing Scanning 2 objects
Preferred item ID: thing (noun), event (verb), or state (adjective) Scanning a preferred and a non-preferred object; consistent signal to choose the preferred object
Field Size Signal choosing among 3+ items
Multiple comm. functions Independently uses current device to spontaneously communicate 3+ functions directed to a partner (e.g., comment, request, etc.)
Picture Matching Matching 4+ pictures to items
Picture Scan Scanning 2 pictures
Choice scan (symbol use) Scanning a field to choose a preferred picture
Symbols in a field Preferred symbolic vocabulary 4+ items

This chart was derived several years ago from materials originating with Willamette ESD.

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