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Ready, Set...GOAL!

Are you feeling “stuck” in the AAC implementation process? Do you feel like your communicator has plateaued in their communication and language skill growth? Are you and/your communicator tired of working on the same goals that they have had for months or even years? Has your communicator outgrown their current goals and now they are irrelevant? Do you simply need to create goals for your communicator from scratch


  • Whether you are a professional, educator, parent, or caregiver to an individual with complex communication needs, you may have answered “yes!” to one or more of these questions.



It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of the year and forget to adjust goals for communicators as they learn and grow in their language and communication skills, which may cause you to feel “stuck” as though they are not making further progress.


The beginning of a new school year, calendar year, and academic semester are prime opportunities to reflect on your AAC implementation efforts and the progress of your communicators.


  • This is the time to adjust current communication and language goals so that they are appropriate for the communicator’s current skill levels and provide a trajectory of further growth. If you find that current goals have been met or are no longer appropriate, perhaps it’s time to formulate new goals.

Regardless, formulating goals can feel overwhelming.


It is crucial to have appropriate goals in place as they are the driving force of the AAC implementation process and facilitate collaboration among members of support teams so that everyone is on the same page regarding the communicator’s current and projected skills.


Feeling anxious or lost with formulating communicator-appropriate goals? Have no fear!


  • Forbes AAC has you covered with a few resources and a simple set of guidelines to help you get started formulating goals that will exponentially grow communication and language skill development.

SMART goals provide an outline to ensure that objectives are achieved in an appropriate time frame. SMART goals are:


Specific - What is the specific skill related to language or communication you want the communicator to achieve? A clear specific goal allows facilitators to know exactly what they are working towards and increases the likelihood of the communicator achieving the goal.


  • For example, if you would like the communicator to develop spontaneous novel utterance generation (SNUG) skills, the goal should specify the length of the utterance and the context or activity in which they will generate such utterances (e.g. communicator will use their SGD (speech-generating device) to generate three-word comments in social situations).

  • As the communicator progresses towards achieving the goal, expand the specifications so that the communicator applies the skill in varying contexts and/or activities.

Measurable - Is the communicator’s progress towards the achievement of the specified objective measurable? If so, how will facilitators measure such progress?


  • Markers of progress and achievements of the goal should be specified so that all members of the support team know what to look for when tracking and targeting the goal. When the goal is measurable, not only can progress be tracked, but it also is a way to know when it is time to increase the complexity of the goal to further skill development in the specified goal area.

  • The goal should specify the frequency of effective demonstration of the skill in which the goal is targeting. For example, the goal may be that the learner will use their SDG to produce social greetings five out of seven days per week. Upon the learner consistently producing social greetings 80% of the time, the goal has been met and it is time to increase the complexity of the goal.

Achievable - Can the communicator achieve the specified goal? Is it a realistic one for them to achieve considering their current skill level?


  • This is especially important for those with complex communication needs who are in the early phases of their journey with AAC in order to make them feel capable of developing skills and growing into an independent communicator. They need to feel, see, and hear that they are achieving goals so that they stay motivated to use the AAC system and continue learning.

  • Breaking down goals into smaller goals makes the AAC journey less overwhelming to the communicator and provides more frequent opportunities for celebration of achievement of goals.

Relevant - Is the skill that the specified goal is targeting relevant to the communicator? Will it enhance their ability to effectively and efficiently engage in a variety of interactions and activities in which they wish to participate?


  • The specified goal should be relevant to the learner and increase their functional capabilities in their immediate life situation.

Time-bound - When would you like the communicator to achieve the specified goal?


  • This helps keep members of the AAC support team accountable and on track on working on the goal. It also helps to know if it is appropriate to break down the specified goal into smaller goals to keep the learner motivated.

When formulating goals, it is imperative to address all of the communicative functions (see Van Tatenhove, 2016 for a full list of communicative functions) so that your communicator develops skills to become a competent communicator and say whatever they want whenever they want to say it.


  • While it is very challenging to formulate one goal that targets all of the communicative functions, you should formulate multiple goals for your learner to develop skills in all five of the communicative functions.

  • When starting to formulate goals, start one step above the learner’s current language level in order to set high yet realistic expectations for their learning, growth, and performance.

Continue this pattern as the communicator advances in their skills so that they reach their highest potential. You don’t know their full potential unless they are encouraged and adequately supported to uncover it.


If you are feeling “stuck” with developing SMART goals for your communicators, there are a few tools to help you.


  • Augmentative & Alternative Communication Profile: A Continuum of Learning (AACP; Kovach, 2009) can be used to identify areas of strength and those that can be further developed. This tool is geared towards SLPs.

  • The Communication Matrix (Rowland, 2013) is helpful in determining the communicator’s current communication methods and suggests an outline for developing communication goals that are relevant to their situation. This assessment is user-friendly not only to SLPs, but also to parents, teachers, and other members of support teams.

  • The Dynamic AAC Goals Grid 2 (DAGG-2; Clarke & Schneider, 2015) is a great resource for goal setting and progress monitoring. The DAGG-2 contains worksheets that guide AAC teams through the goal writing process step by step. AAC Goal Worksheets help to choose a skill from each of the communicative competencies that we selected within the AAC Goals Grid, adding in the communication partners, activity, prompting type, and criteria to complete the goal.


The DAGG-2 can be used in three separate ways in reassessment and progress monitoring:


  • Look back at the Dynamic AAC Goals listed by competency and mark any progress in the level of cueing. Be sure to use a different color pen and/or mark the date of reassessment to denote progress monitoring.

  • Use the AAC Goals Periodic Progress Report to record progress in each competency area. Keeping track of the percentage of goals mastered within each competency area will help the AAC team know when the communicator is ready to move towards a different independence level within each competency.

  • Use the information from the AAC Goals Periodic Progress Report to review the goals formulated using the AAC Goals Worksheet and revise as needed.

Collaboration and communication among members of AAC support teams is crucial.

  • All members should be communicating their vision for the communicator’s future, as well as what they are observing in regards to the communicator’s progression towards the goal.

Once the communicator’s goals have been formulated, it is important to communicate what the goals are to all members of the support team so that they can help monitor progress towards achieving the goals, as well as support the communicator in working on developing skills related to the goals when opportunities arise.


It is also crucial to maintain consistent levels and amount of support and modeling across all members of the support team so that the communicator’s progress can be accurately measured.


  • The Prompt Hierarchy InfoGraphic is a great resource to provide members of support teams to ensure consistent levels of support.

The AAC implementation process is a marathon, not a sprint. Dedicate the adequate time and thought into formulating goals for your communicator to set them up for success. The way that the AAC team supports communicators has a profound impact on their growth trajectory. It all begins with a good goal!


References


  • Clarke, V., & Schneider, H. (2015). Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2 (DAGG-2). Kennesaw, GA; Tobii Dynavox & Dynamic Therapy Associates. http://tdvox.web-downloads.s3.amazonaws.com/MyTobiiDynavox/dagg%202%20-%20writable.pdf

  • Kovach, T. (2009). AACP: Augmentative & Alternative Communication Profile: A Continuum of Learning. PRO-ED Inc.

  • Rowland, C. (2013). Handbook: Online Communication Matrix. Portland, OR; Design To Learn.

  • Van Tatenhove, G. M. (2016, November). Normal Language Acquisition & Children using AAC Systems. Orlando, FL; Van Tatenhove.


Hannah Foley, B.A. is the Content Creator at Forbes AAC. She has over four years of experience in AAC education and implementation, in addition to over 24 years of personal experience using AAC and AT tools to navigate society as someone who has a (dis)ability. Hannah is dedicated to providing quality training and implementation resources to support teams to facilitate the integration of AAC into all of life's activities to maximize the communicative skill development and meaningful engagement of those who use AAC. 


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