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Jumpstart the School Year with These AAC Tips!

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Welcome back to school! The start of the school year is exciting! Classrooms are set-up and decorated, supplies have been bought, and students are meeting their new teachers and peers.

For clinicians, the beginning of the school year can be taxing. Between managing caseload numbers, IEP deadlines, and scheduling, it can be overwhelming. Here are some tips and ideas to start your school year!

Tip 1: Peer modeling

  • Using peers for aided AAC modeling is a great way to increase positive peer interactions and social engagement for AAC users.

  • How do you do it? Provide a peer with a device or a low-tech board depicting the student's AAC system. Give instructions to the peer on how to model and how to be a good communication partner. Facilitate communication in a semi-structured therapy activity.

  • Learn more about how to incorporate peer modeling for AAC in the general education classroom in this blog post from PrAACtical AAC: AAC in General Education: Incorporating Peer Modeling.

Tip 2: Use the Funding Portal

  • The AAC funding process can be managed all in one place with the Forbes AAC Funding Portal making it more efficient for busy SLPs.

  • Register and then login to the portal to manage all funding activity in one place. Then track the step-by-step progress of each student's funding packet.

  • Be sure to check out the live chat option as well - this allows you to chat live with your funding specialist right through the portal!

Tip 3: Low-tech AAC boards

  • These are great to have on hand for quick communication and as visual supports. The reality is, technology is not a guarantee! Kids may forget their charger at home or leave the device in the classroom. The use of low-tech AAC boards provides access to communication immediately and provides AAC users with communication opportunities if/when technology isn't able to.

  • Take a look at our Member Resources page (Forbes AAC Member Area) for access to low-tech AAC boards. You can print these out and laminate them or even put them in a page protector! Keeps the board lasting longer and easy to clean.

Tip 4: Goals across all communicative competencies

  • AAC is not magic or a quick-fix. By just presenting an AAC system to an individual does not ensure their ability to be effective in communicating using that system!

  • According to Light (1989), communicative competence requires integration of knowledge, strategies, and skills across four interrelated domains: linguistic, operational, social, and strategic.

  • The linguistic and operational domains provide the tools for communication while the social and strategic domains are related to the actual use of these tools in communicative interactions.

  • For an individual to obtain communicative competence, they must learn to integrate skills across all of these domains with various communication partners and across environments (Beukelman & Light, 2020).

  • For AAC users, it's important that goals address all of these competencies! For example, a goal addressing independent transport of the device from one classroom to another is a great operational competency goal for an AAC user.

Tip 5: Core word activities

  • Core vocabulary is the approximately 200 words that make up 80% of what we say every day in our spoken language (e.g., Fried-Oken & More, 1992; Robillard et al., 2014; Trembath et al., 2007).

  • Core words includes a large number of function words (e.g., it, that, is, the, can) and a small number of content words that occur frequently (e.g., go, want, more) (Beukelman & Light, 2020).

  • Fringe vocabulary is the other 20% of our communication and is typically nouns. This is context-specific vocabulary that can be highly individualized (Bean et al., 2019). Fringe vocabulary is often very motivating to AAC users!

  • Core vocabulary is crucial for effective communication, but so is fringe! Best practice? Not to include or eliminate vocabulary in intervention based on categorization of words as “core” or “fringe” but to find a balance between the two that best matches natural language development and vocabulary acquisition (Cargill & Street, 2016).

  • Take a look at these core word activities through our Member Resources page: Forbes AAC Activity: Cars and racetrack and Forbes AAC Activity: Bubbles. These provide core and fringe vocabulary targets as well a goal example!

Want to learn more about Forbes AAC and how we can help your students who are AAC users? Reach out to your local Assistive Technology Specialist! This link can guide you to the specialist that is dedicated to your local region.

From all of us at Forbes AAC, we wish you a happy start to the school year!


  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (Practice Portal).

  • Bean, A., Cargill, L. P., & Lyle, S. (2019). Framework for selecting vocabulary for preliterate children who use augmentative and alternative communication. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 28(3), 1000-1009.

  • Beukelman, D. R., & Light, J. C. (2020). Augmentative & alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (5th ed.). Brookes.

  • Cargill, L. P., & Street, M. (2016). Immediate and long-term AAC intervention planning. Talk presented at the Communication Matters conference, Leeds, United Kingdom.

  • Fried-Oken, M., & More, L. (1992). An initial vocabulary for nonspeaking preschool children based on developmental and environmental language sources. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 8(1), 41–56.

  • Robillard, M., Mayer-Crittenden, C., Minor-Corriveau, M., & Bélanger, R. (2014). Monolingual and bilingual children with and without primary language impairment: Core vocabulary comparison. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30(3), 267–278.

  • Trembath, D., Balandin, S., & Togher, L. (2007). Vocabulary selection for Australian children who use augmentative and alternative communication. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 32(4), 291–301.

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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