Andrea Ryba
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Augmentative and Alternative Communication in School Settings
Research by Andrea Ryba
CSD823X Augmentative and Alternative Communication
 Michigan State University


Why is AAC within Schools Important?
  • Good communication skills lead to successful speaking, thinking, reading, writing and learning and can give students more confidence in the classroom.
  • Not having an appropriate Assistive and Augmentavitve Communication device could lead to problems understanding instruction, participating in classroom activities, and developing peer relationships.
  • Students use speech daily to answer questions, ask questions, share information, socially interact, and aid in literacy skills.
  • AAC is the students' voice, hands, and/or self expression so it is important that it is available to them at all times/environments.

Types of AAC Used in School Settings

Manual Communication/Gestures/Sign Language
Using body movements to help convey a message and/or thought. Includes fine and gross motor movements, facial expressions, eye behaviors and postures. e.g. American Sign Language, Signing Exact English, Key-word Signing, and Tactual Reception of Signing.
Learn a few basics signs here!

Picture Exchange Communication System
PECS consists of six phases and begins by teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a "communicative partner", who immediately honors the exchange as a request. Sequentially, the system teaches discrimination of pictures and how to put them together in sentences. Lemon
Rebus Symbols
Pictures representing objects, actions, and attributes that are immediately recognizable. Certain symbols are included to show plurals and tenses.
A graphical language composed of over 3,000  very simple shapes to keep them easy and fast to draw. The symbols can be combined in endless ways to create new words/sentences including grammatical capabilities.

DynaVox Technology
Speech generating devices dedicated to assisting individuals who are unable to communicate reliably with their own voices due to a cognitive, language and/or physical impairments. The devices range in sizes, portability, and access methods depending on individual abilities.
iPads can serve the purpose of a speech generating device when specialized AAC apps from the internet are installed onto it. e.g.Proloquo2go, Tapspeak, iConverse, MyTalk mobile, Voice4U, etc.

Selecting the Appropriate AAC Device

What are the child’s strengths and abilities?
  • Always choose the method that is the quickest and most efficient, and does not cause negative side effects such as fatigue.
  • Identify the barriers that are preventing the child from achieving his or her full communication/participation potential and match a device that can counteract that barrier.

What are the child’s communication needs or goals?
  • Communication requirements vary in different situations, multimodal communication is the best way to help students reach their goals because is comprised of a number of different types of communication methods, each of which is used in different situations.
  • It is important to remember that technology is not what teaches a child to communicate, people do. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind what the child’s communication goals are and not let the equipment distract from the

Appropriate vocabulary & Picutres vs. words
  • The vocabulary used with the AAC should be appropriate for the childs age and development level. Young children will usually have fewer, more simple vocabulary options which will increase in amount and difficulty as they grow/improve. 
  • Also, depending on their literacy skills and/or vision, the device may use words instead of pictures as item selections. If they are visually impaired, tactual representations would likely be most appropriate.

AAC in School Environments is a TEAM Effort

Classroom Teacher
  • Assess the physical environment of the classroom
  • Identify classroom vocabulary
  • Adapting the curriculum
  • Encouraging participation during group activities
  • Relaying information to parents
  • Assessing social capabilities.
Speech-Language Pathologist
  • Identify vocabulary in both social and curricular environments
  • Programming new vocabulary into the device
  • Providing in-services to new staff about working with AAC
  • Implementing IEP goals
  • Evaluation of intervention outcomes
  • Assessing social capabilities and future needs
Classroom Aide
  • Identifying situations in which the student experiences communication breakdowns to report to team for devising strategies to avoid future breakdowns.
  • Facilitate the students' participation in a discrete manner. Act as more of a aide for the entire class rather than an individual's aid. 
  • Identify successes and useful strategies
  • Charging the student's device on a daily basis
  • Carrying over what is learned at school into the home.
    • reading weekly books
    • journals
    • programming new vocabulary
  • Keeping close contact with the other team members on a continuing basis
Substitute Teacher
  • Keep copies of device descriptions and how the student uses it in the classroom, and technical support numbers in an easy to access spot in the classroom.
  • Learn the students' strengths and weaknesses regarding curriculum and participation.
  • Collaborate with the classroom aide to ensure the device is functioning properly.