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Goal Writing for AAC Users

Do you struggle writing goals for AAC users? If so, you are not alone. As an AAC specialist, writing goals for AAC users can feel daunting. Even if you just explain it is language therapy. Even if you explain what “SMART” means. Even if you describe what AAC companies are. Even if you provide examples.

  • One of my professors in my graduate program many moons ago explained it simply to me, “Can another therapist pick up your goal and know how to take data?” If they can’t, it needs to be rewritten. So how do we accomplish this ability to write meaningful goals that are individually driven?

First, here is a quick reminder of what SMART goals contain:

In terms of individualized education plans (i.e., IEPs), we can support standard based goal writing through the following considerations: representation (i.e., how the information will be presented), action/expression (i.e., how will they demonstrate it), and criteria (how can you tell it’s met). When thinking of language goals, I also encourage the therapist to think about what area of language they are really wanting to enhance---semantics, morphology, phonology, syntax, or pragmatics. When we lump multiple areas together, we have a difficult time really discerning what progress we are truly tracking. For example:

  • The individual will utilize a variety of pragmatic functions (e.g., request, comment, protest, answer questions) to communicate wants and needs using the AAC device with 80% accuracy to a variety of communication partners.

  • The above goal is nearly impossible to take good, objective data on. What does a request look like? How do we know the individual is “accurate” when protesting? If they do it in speech but don’t do it with their teacher, does that count as “inaccurate”? What if they only show 2 functions in a session but they demonstrate it independently 20 times—is that poor progress?

My primary focus for therapists that I support is to BE SPECIFIC. The more specific the goal, the more easily someone can replicate the environment and target the goal themselves. Here are some examples of how we can breakdown our objectives for consideration:

  • By generalization—structured/teacher directed task, unstructured/child, directed activity, natural conversation

  • By level of assistance—direct prompt, indirect prompt, following 1 partner model, independently

  • By percentage—25%, 50%, 75%, greater than 80% (caution—see explanation below**)

  • By number frequency—at least 5, 10, 15 over baseline (use empirical evidence and use data collection over initial baseline performance for reference)

  • By linguistic/syntactic/morphological parameters—obligatory contexts, sentence level, multi-sentence within a structured task, conversation

**When using a percentage, the therapist must use explicit instruction to determine accuracy % or what an opportunity consist of during the activity. This context is difficulty to ascertain when looking at anything that can be self-generated by the AAC user (e.g., initiating, requesting, commenting, refusal). These goals are best served when working on semantic or morphological goals such as “individual will label pictured objects presented with 80% accuracy” or “individual will utilize past tense -ed in 80% of obligatory contexts when provided with a visual and verbal prompt in a story (e.g., the child is playing with his friends. Now he’s done. What did he do? He ______.”). **


When we know what objective breakdown looks like, we also understand what mastery level looks like AND how to build towards independence across environments. When we think about what area of language (i.e., semantic, morphology, phonology, syntax, pragmatics) we are targeting, we can better understand what data and objectives we need to provide. So, let’s look at a few examples of goals that fit the SMART criteria and support specific objectives that can be targeted by any therapist/staff/family member to build communication competency for any AAC user:

  • SEMANTIC: By (date), when provided with unrestricted access to aided language input, ___ will increase expressive language by increasing his ability to request more than 5 highly desired items/activities using a 1-word request (e.g., want, ball, eat, car), when provided a direct verbal prompt (e.g., “what do you want”) to his 42-cell location voice output system during a child led play activity as measured by response charting during a 30-minute therapy session.

  • SYNTAX: By (date), ___ will increased expressive syntax by increasing his mean length of utterance to greater than 2.0 using preferred method of symbolic communication (e.g., oral spoken language, 84- location speech generating device), during child-led play as measured by a 50-word utterance language sample in a 30-minute therapy session.

  • PRAGMATIC: By (date), ___ will increase her ability to greet using a prestored word or phrase (e.g., hello, what’s up, hiya), using symbolic language on her preferred method of communication (e.g., single voice output switch, light tech 60-cell dynamic book, 60-cell location speech generating device, spoken language), following a natural communication partner cue (e.g., hi) to at least 2 different communication partners at least 3x across a school day as measure by staff response charting.

As the examples shown above, goal writing is often centered around linguistic competency. Additionally, we can look at other areas of communication competency (Light, Naughton, 2014). There are also operational and strategic goals that can be considered including, but not limited to the following:

  • Charging one’s own device

  • Transporting a device across settings

  • Self-programming one’s own device

  • Turning a device on/off

  • Adjusting volume depending on the environment

  • Asking for help/seeking assistance when device repair is needed

  • Returning to and use of device when needed

  • Using a device for external messaging and integrated outside programming (text, email)

  • Storing files to pre-programmable messages for efficiency

  • Using function buttons (clear, delete, message window)

What are some additional resources that can help with goal writing? Here are a few supportive tools:

Goal writing can feel daunting at first, but when you break it down and use the strategies mentioned above, the result is that you should begin to see objective progress for your AAC goal. This measurable progress can then be shaped into long-term planning with clearer vision towards the ultimate goal of communicative independence for your AAC users. Happy goal writing!


-Laura Hayes, M.S., CCC-SLP

AAC Specialist


References:

  • Ahern, K. (2014, April 8). Meaningful and evidence-based goals – part one AAC. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from http://teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com/2014/04/meaningful-and-evidence-based-goals.html.

  • Burkhart, L. & Porter, G. (2010). Writing IEP Goals and Objectives for Authentic Communication – for Children with Complex Communication Needs. Retrieved from: http://lburkhart.com/Writing_IEP_Goals_rev11.pdf.

  • Clarke, Vicki and Holly Schneider. “Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2” Published by Tobii Dynavox on-line. 2015. Accessed at http://www.mydynavox.com/Content/resources/slp-app/Goals-Goals-Goals/the-dynamicaac-goals-grid-2-dagg-2.pdf.

  • Gail Brown, Carl Leonard & Michael Arthur-Kelly (2016) Writing SMARTER goals for professional learning and improving classroom practices, Reflective Practice, 17:5, 621-635, https://doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2016.1187120

  • Hanson, E. K. (2007). Documentation in AAC Using Goal Attainment Scaling. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 16(4), 6-9.

  • Haughey, D. Smart Goals. Retrieved from: https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/smart-goals.php.

  • Janice Light & David McNaughton (2014) Communicative Competence for Individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A New Definition for a New Era of Communication?, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30:1, 1-18, DOI: 10.3109/07434618.2014.885080

  • Kovach, T. M. (2009). Augmentative & Alternative Communication Profile: A Continuum of Learning. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.

  • Matthew L. Symonds & Tyler Tapps (2016) Goal-Prioritization for Teachers, Coaches, and Students: A Developmental Model, Strategies, 29:3, 34-38, DOI: 10.1080/08924562.2016.1159155

  • Rowland, C. (2016). The communication matrix. Retrieved from: http://communicationMatrix.org.

  • Zangari, C. (2021, October 18). AAC Goal Writing with Lauren Enders: 5 Common Challenges [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://praacticalaac.org/praactical/aac-goal-writing-with-lauren-enders-5-common-challenges/

Laura Hayes is a speech-language pathologist with over 13 years of augmentative communication experience in both school and medical settings. Laura has presented locally and at state, national, and international conferences including: MSHA, PATTAN, ATIA, and the Pediatric Perspectives Conference. She has been published and supported both inpatient pediatric and educational augmentative communication research. She currently hosts a podcast for her school district titled: “Innovative AAC Solutions”. She loves providing training, implementation resources, and guided direction to help with success using AAC. She can be followed for more resources and ideas on Instagram @aac_innovations.

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