top of page

Incorporating Play for Language Development and AAC

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

By the time typically developing children are in preschool, they understand and use thousands of words across various semantic categories and understand and use a variety of sentence types (Davidoff, 2017). Children learn language through interactions with parents, other adults, and peers. Often, this is through play! There are many ways to incorporate play at home, in therapy, or other environments for language development for AAC users.

Treasure Hunt

  • This is always a fun activity! The AAC user can hide items throughout the house or outside in the yard and then they can practice using different directional words (e.g., up, down, in front, behind) or commands (e.g., go, stop, find). Have a parent or sibling be the one finding the hidden items and the AAC user gets to provide directions and commands through their AAC system!

Simon Says

  • This is a great way to teach body part identification. You can have the AAC user be "Simon" and allow them to provide directions (e.g., "Simon says touch your NOSE"). Add a button that is pre-programmed with "Simon says touch your" and then model the use of the pre-programmed button + a body part. A fun way to let the AAC user provide instructions while also incorporating language learning.

Baby Doll

  • This is an activity that provides many different language opportunities! In child-led play you can target basic core words (e.g., eat, drink, sleep). You could also target basic health and medical language (e.g., hurt, ouch) using a play-based doctor kit or you could incorporate pretend play and teach different feelings (e.g., happy, sad, hungry). So many language opportunities!

Another great resource for child-focused, play-based intervention is through the use of our Language Development Kit (LDK). The LDK can be used an accessory to our WinSlate speech generating device (SGD) as a natural and motivating way to target language acquisition using AAC. What is more natural and motivating to a child than play?

  • Using play-based motivators and professionally developed clinical protocols, the LDK creates a systematic pathway to language acquisition. Users can interact and control sensory toys using touch, switch, head mouse, or even eye-tracking access.

  • This is a great way to incorporate play for individuals who have complex motor impairments that require the use of alternate access to their SGD. Research has found that children with significant motor impairments have difficulty with voluntary motor function due to muscle tone abnormalities, synergistic movements, dissociation of extremities, and motor planning, all of which impact the child’s ability to control and grade movements (Cotter, Porter, & Burkhart, 2016). They may benefit from assistive technology to access their environment for communication, social interaction, daily function, and play.

  • The LDK includes interactive sensory toys, clinical protocols, and ready-to-use pagesets through the Spark portal on our WinSlate speech-generating device. The clinical protocols were developed by speech-language pathologists to provide clinicians with a systematic approach to language acquisition using AAC. Protocols include lesson plans, goal banks, and data tracking sheets. The pagesets are pre-made and specific to each activity. They're fully programmed with infrared commands and activity specific vocabulary​ for use with the clinical protocols!

For individuals with complex communication needs, AAC systems and strategies are essential to the development of their language, literacy, and cognitive skills. The earlier AAC is incorporated into their lives, the greater the potential for improving their language outcomes (Davidoff, 2017). One way to do that? Through play!


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. .

95 views0 comments


bottom of page