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Operational Competence in AAC

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Did you know? AAC intervention also includes goals targeting the operational domain, which is the strategies and skills in the technical operation and production of AAC (Beukelman & Light, 2020).

  • Successful AAC intervention requires the user to have knowledge and skills in four interrelated domains: linguistic, operational, social, and strategic (Light & McNaughton, 2014). Goals targeting the linguistic, social, and strategic domain are often more intuitive for clinicians.

  • Did you know that AAC intervention should also target the operational domain? The operational domain is the strategies and skills in the technical operation and production of AAC (Beukelman & Light, 2020).

How to we target the operational domain? These skills include teaching independence in using specific access methods, in navigating within a communication system, and operating the mechanics of the device. When a user first receives an AAC device, it’s easy to focus solely on teaching language and communication within the system. Goals should also include teaching the AAC user how to maximize independence in this operational domain.

There are many ways to do this! Teaching a user how to appropriately manage the volume on their device will allow them to communicate in a socially appropriate manner if their volume is too high as well as fix communication breakdowns if their volume is too low. That's easy to do with our SoundPOD speaker!

It may also be important to teach a user who uses multiple access methods how to change from one to the other. For example, some individuals with ALS may start their day with direct selection using their finger, but as they fatigue throughout their day may switch to eye gaze. Teaching them how to independently change from one access method to the other within their device is crucial for them to maximize their independence and autonomy.

If you have a student who arrives to school every day with their AAC device in their backpack you can make a goal that targets their independence in removing their device from their backpack and taking it to the classroom. Individuals with the motor skills can learn to independently charge their device to maximize access to their device throughout their day.

There are many ways to target the operational domain to meet each and every AAC user’s needs!


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

  • Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (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.

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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