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AAC Communication Partners

Module 3: AAC as a Language


Module 3 shows how AAC competence is developed as language. Communication partners must be aware of the key principles of Aided Language Stimulation and of the key objective of empowering those using AAC to be independent communicators. These goals, in turn, shape the ways in which vocabulary is conceptualized and selected.

The learning objectives for this module are:

  • Understand the significance of the key concepts that, together, comprise Aided Language Stimulation, and appreciate their interdependencies

  • Be able to explain why AAC is a language, comparable to any other language, rather than technical proficiency with a device

  • Understand the three categories of vocabulary and how they are used together to enable a person using  AAC to meet their unique communicative requirements

3.1 Aided Language Stimulation
In this tutorial, Nerissa discusses with the graduate interns the three key concepts that, together, constitute Aided Language Stimulation.

The first key concept, the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), is defined as the difference between what a learner can do without help, and what she or he cannot do. To be effective, Aided Language Stimulation must work within the ZPD.

Secondly, effective language stimulation relies on a triad; the student and communication partner working together through the medium of the AAC system. This is known as the “Triadic Model.”

The third key concept for Aided Language Stimulation is known as Input/Output Asymmetry. This is to emphasize that those using AAC need to see and experience how their communication partners expect them to communicate. Jenny puts this well in the tutorial. If the situation were flipped, we would not expect a young child with typical verbal capacity to learn to speak solely through using an AAC device.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. Apply Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development to the extent of your own capabilities in, say, sport, or musical ability. In seeking to improve in something that is important to you, are you more likely to succeed if you are stretched or challenged within the range of the possible?

  2. The Triadic Model is summarized by stressing that any AAC system must be seen as fully integral to the interaction between a student and a communication partner. However, the Triadic Model applies equally to any form of technology. Think of  lite-tech AAC tools that can be effective in Aided Language Stimulation.

  3. The key concept of Input/Output Asymmetry requires that communication partners constantly demonstrate their own competence in using technology to communicate. This requires continual innovation and ingenuity. Think of some of the ways that you’ve seen this happening in the videos that you’ve watched as part of this course.




3.2 AAC is a Language
Here, Nerissa explains how AAC is part of a comprehensive communication repertoire. As a language, AAC empowers a person to express themselves and fully engage with others. Nerissa demonstrates how icons are used to build a customised overlay on an AAC device – words and symbols that meet each individual set of needs.

We meet Sebastian and Kate. Sebastian and Hillary have a conversation using Sebastian’s whiteboard – the Triadic Model of Aided Language Stimulation in action. Kate is learning to communicate using a high-tech tool – a sophisticated AAC device that uses “eye gaze” technology, enabling Kate to find expression by looking at icons on her screen.

We see Sebastian, Kate and peers participating in group activities with other students and communication partners, using a wide variety of communication tools. This shows the power and reach of AAC in enabling language communities.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. Take another look at the segment of the video in which we see Casey, Nerissa, and Kate working together to form sentences. Although Kate is using a highly sophisticated AAC device, notice the wide range of tools that are equally important in enabling Kate to find a language of expression.

  2. In the previous tutorial, Nerissa set out the concepts of Aided Language Stimulation, Input-Output Asymmetry and of the Triadic Model . How does the conversation between Sebastian and Hillary demonstrate this concept in practice?

  3. Now that you have appreciated that AAC is a language, how would you set about briefing a novice communication partner, new to this field?


3.3 Vocabulary Selection
In this tutorial, Nerissa leads us through the principles of vocabulary selection for the purposes of Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Nerissa starts be defining the three major categories of vocabulary: core vocabulary, fringe vocabulary and key vocabulary. She explains the differences between these categories and why these differences are so important for AAC, whether for the purposes of lite-tech or in the design and implementation of overlays for AAC devices.

Together, these three vocabulary categories support a range of functions for effective communicative exchanges, built on each person’s unique profile.

For AAC users, the visual representation of  vocabulary makes abstract language concrete, recognizing that each individual’s understanding of iconicity is unique.

Vocabulary selection becomes more complex in meeting the academic needs of those using AAC. Here, the power of AAC lies in the range of tools to support academic tasks, opening gates on the road to independent communication.

After you have watched this video, consider the following and then take the Quiz:

  1. Dictate a paragraph of your own speech to a recording device. Play it back, and separate your vocabulary into the three categories that Nerissa has defined in this tutorial. Identify how your unique use of key vocabulary defines you as an individual.

  2. In this tutorial, Nerissa stresses our responsibility, as AAC communication partners, for choosing what an individual can and cannot say. What are some of the wider implications of this power and responsibility?

  3. Nerissa emphasizes the importance of the full range of AAC tools – lite-tech and high-tech – in enabling an AAC user to have the vocabulary that is required for academic purposes. Go back over your notes from the earlier videos in this course – and revisit some of the videos – to understand better how effective communication partners can provide this academic support.


Now it's time for Module 4…

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