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Conversational Coaching as an AAC Intervention Strategy

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

One approach in speech therapy is to include communication partners in intervention. One of those strategies is conversational coaching. This intervention is designed to teach an individual to use both verbal and nonverbal communication strategies. This approach also involves teaching the communication partner how to elicit the individual’s use of these strategies! It is very much a team approach.

  • In this approach, the SLP is the “coach” for both individuals (Hopper, Holland, & Rewega, 2002). Strategies that are taught may include unaided (e.g., gestures or body language) and aided communication (e.g., communication board or pictures) as well as cueing, confirming information, and summarizing information (ASHA, n.d.).

  • Treatment targets teaching both the patient and their communication partner verbal and nonverbal communication strategies for maximizing communication.

  • Unaided communication is a type of AAC that does not utilize any type of equipment or tool. This may include verbalizations, gestures, body language, or facial expressions.

  • Aided communication uses some form of tool or equipment to communicate. Low-tech options include communication boards, pictures, or writing while high-tech options include the use of a speech-generating device (SGD) with a communication app that allows an individual to use text-based or symbol-based communication systems.

A recent meta-analysis by Kent-Walsh and colleagues (2015) found that there is evidence in the research literature that communication partner training and instruction has positive effects on functional communication for individuals who use AAC.

  • According to their study, findings found that communication partner training can be effective for many different communication partners including caregivers, para-professionals or educational assistants, parents, peers, and teachers.

  • The use of aided language modeling, expectant delay, and open-ended question asking were found to be the most commonly targeted communication partner training strategies while the use of instructor modeling, guided practice, and role playing were the most commonly utilized communication partner activities identified in this meta-analysis (Kent & Walsh et al., 2015).

The conversational coaching intervention strategy was originally designed for individuals with aphasia. June is Aphasia Awareness Month! Check out our blog post about it here: Aphasia Awareness Month

  • According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 1 million people in the US are living with aphasia and there's an estimated 180,000 new cases of aphasia per year in the United States (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD], 2015).

  • The goal of intervention for an individual with aphasia is to maximize on their strengths while targeting weakness related to their functional communication (ASHA, n.d.).

Including communication partners as a part of AAC intervention is an important consideration. There are many different communication partner strategies that can benefit AAC users, including conversational coaching!


Katie Threlkeld, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed, ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist and the Educational Program Developer at Forbes AAC. She has over eight years of experience in AT and AAC assessment and treatment with both the pediatric and adult populations. Katie has presented at the state and national level on AAC topics and she has University teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level.

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