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AAC Communication Partners

Module 2: The AAC Environment


Module 2 outlines how communication partners work together to create circumstances conducive to AAC language development.  We look at the principles of environmental engineering, how to establish communication opportunities, and the ways in which overlays are built using AAC devices.

For this module, your learning objectives are:

  • Be able to conceptualize an effective strategy for modelling an appropriate and effective environment for an individual using AAC

  • Gain an insight into how effective communication opportunities can be established through environmental modeling

  • Understand the basic principles behind the design of AAC overlays and the relative merits of dedicated speech generated devices and specialized communication apps available on general purpose IT devices such as iPads




2.1 Environmental Engineering
In this tutorial, Nerissa introduces the concept of environmental engineering, as it is understood and applied in AAC. Based on the work of Elder, Goosens and Crain, environmental engineering is defined as a systematic approach to planning how an individual can communicate.

Environmental engineering comprises four distinct areas:

  • Opportunities for communication

  • Words, phrases and vocabulary

  • Visuals and overlays

  • Teaching how to use the tools


Modeling is essential for the effective construction and integration of these aspects of an AAC environment. Modeling is also specific to each unique set of circumstances.

When used appropriately and effectively, environmental engineering results in a leveled playing field for those using AAC. As a consequence, everyone will benefit through a common medium for communication, expression and interaction.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. How can some of the aspects of environmental engineering (such as opportunities, vocabulary and visuals) be best integrated with the teaching and continual development of communication partners?

  2. Nerissa stresses the importance of modelling – model, model, model. How would you go about understanding, planning and structuring an effective AAC environment for a specific individual using AAC?

  3. Remembering that the overall aim of AAC is to empower independent communicators, what do you think are the key criteria for a “level playing field”; the markers of a successful AAC outcome?

2.2 Understanding Communication Opportunities
Here, Sarah explains how she sets up communication opportunities with a morning meeting.  This provides those using AAC with a sense of structure and an emphasis on engagement to create the opportunity for building expressive language.

Sarah’s example is the “Slippery Fish” routine. In a carefully modeled environment of song, gesture and a range of lite-tech tools, the group builds a series of sentences using AAC. All those using AAC are clearly focused and engaged, creating a valuable communication opportunity.

Ally discusses the “Slippery Fish” theme further, unpacking the complexity of working with different levels of individuals using AAC at the same time. Ally wants a communication opportunity that is as expressive as possible. She achieves this by encouraging those using AAC to interact with one other.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. Sarah’s “Slippery Fish” routine combines song, gesture and a wide range of tools to create a rich communication opportunity that steadily builds in complexity. Can you identify an underlying structure that makes this communication opportunity successful; the modelling that Nerissa emphasized, in the previous video, as being so important?

  2. Ally turns that challenge of working with different levels of AAC competence into an opportunity, encouraging those in her group to work with one another.  What are the additional benefits of this approach?

  3. Notice how communication opportunities such as these involve a range of communication partners working closely together.  Take another look at Sarah’s “Slippery Fish” routine, and identify the roles played by the paraprofessionals.

2.3 Words as Pictures
This video focuses on the importance of overlays for effective environmental engineering. Overlays are the sets of symbols – pictures – that represent words, concepts, constructions and other aspects of language. They are the key interface between what an individual who uses AAC wants to say and the generation of representations of communication intentions that can be universally understood.

The graduate interns start by discussing the merits of the different devices that are widely used in AAC. The principal distinction they make is between the iPad and its communication applications, and dedicated speech generative devices such as those manufactured by the Prentke Romich Company (PRC).

On the one hand, iPad based apps such as Proloquo2Go are comparatively easy for communication partners to master and use. In contrast, dedicated PRC devices such as the Accent series may initially appear more intrusive, but offer robust language capabilities.

Hillary emphasises that, as part of holistic environmental engineering, the choice of device and overlay must be matched with the needs of the individual. Technology is changing continually, and it’s important to keep up to date.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. New digital technologies are changing our world continuously. We are encouraged to believe that owning and using the latest technology is essential. Why should the effective development of AAC not fall victim to these arguments?

  2. How should the commonly used devices and overlays be integrated into an overall AAC environment?

  3. Alyssa and Jenny discuss the comparative merits of the iPad and the PRC Accent, as well as the possible benefits of a dedicated speech generating device.  They touched on the intuitive nature of the one as well as the complexity of the other.  Some of these factors may seem incompatible.  What do you think?

When you've thought about these key issues, take the Module 2 Quiz and then you're ready to move on to Module 3…

Cancellation Policy: Commūnicāre, LLC reserves the right to cancel a class based on low registration. If a class is cancelled, participants will be notified and can either transfer their registration to another class or request a refund. 


Refund Policy: Refunds will not be issued if a participant is unable to attend a class. However, registration may be transferred to another class, if available.

Complaint Policy: If you are not satisfied with the course you purchased, or have questions, comments or concern, please contact our Professional Development Coordinator

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