Transitioning for AAC

Posted May 6, 2014 - 12:51pm

Transitions: Moving Along with AAC by Margaret Perkins, CCC-SLP, ATP

Transitions, wow, they can be really scary.

Transitions mean different things so let’s try to break it down so we can plan:


For individuals who use AAC to communicate there are two basic types of transitions that occur throughout their lives. One type of transition is growth or the act of movement. This type of transition can be growth in language, literacy skills, expectations and from one technology need to another. The second type of transition involves the act change, changing to something different. Changes in symbol representation systems, our support people, school settings and with access methods are all examples of change.

On the above Chart see “Transition Type”: Growth Transition: Language Development

I have included some general but hopefully helpful information as we think about different types of transitions in more specific terms.

Growth Transitions in Language: There is much that we do know about language development and these are some basic things that can help guide this growth transition.

  1. Symbols need to be available, if they aren’t available they can’t be learned
  2. Meaning/communicative intent is repeatedly demonstrated by people that already understand/use the symbol. If a child is to learn a symbolic language it needs to be taught by people who can use it.
  3. When emerging “learners” attempt to use the symbol those attempts are recognized and responded to, and hopefully responded to with joy!!
  4. Language occurs developmentally, in a predictable hierarchy and we need to keep that in mind. For children who use a visual symbol system we start with joint attention, early communication functions such as; greetings, protests and requests. From there we just keep growing, using language development as our guideline.

Growth Transitions in Literacy: Literacy is often delayed for individuals who use AAC systems to communicate but there is much we know about literacy that can help guide us. We know that literacy occurs in a predictive and progressive manner just like language.

  1. Literacy is composed of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
  2. Growth in any of the four areas fosters growth in the others
  3. Unavailability of any one area limits growth in all four areas
  4. The most powerful intervention involves all four components simultaneously

Growth Transitions in Expectations: There is not much more that I can say here except expectations start high and continue to rise as an individual grows.

Growth Transitions in Technology Need: We live in world where technological systems are changing rapidly and this can be a very good thing. What we always need to remember to ask ourselves when a new “widget” becomes available is why we are thinking of adding it to our arsenal of tools. Adding computer access or independent control of media/music is important as we grow. Just don’t add technology for the sake of technology, it is after all just a tool.

Change Transition with Symbol Representation: Almost every child who ends up using an AAC System that is considered “high tech” began with a different symbol set (maybe PECS or sign language). This early learning does several wonderful things for children. It allows them to learn a large noun-based vocabulary, how to interact with others using what they have available, social engagement and so on. When it comes time to learn a systematic language system, typically Unity, we are now asking children to learn something new and different.

Some things we know about learning something new: 1. Wrap “new” information around already “learned” information. If a child knows the sign for “more” and knows what it means teach that new symbol on their device. This is easier than learning a new concept and a new symbol at the same time. 2. Model, model, model 3. Look at your prompt level. If you are directing a child to show you or find “more” (the new symbol) you are asking them to pass a test on information that has never been taught to them. In other words focus your time on teaching, not testing

Change Transition with Support: The level of support needed by a child can vary depending on their needs at that time. When we are learning something that is new we may need more individual support but as we become more proficient in that skill the need for individual support should lessen, for children this means that they should become more independent communicators.

Some things to keep in mind about support; 1. As support changes (decrease or increase) keep a close tab on your student’s performance. 2. Support may be decreased as a child has become more proficient with their language but be aware that the “burden of communication” has now shifted from the adult (who may have structured the communication opportunities) to the child (who must now seek out communication opportunities and engage independently). This change in role can be difficult so make sure that you are aware of this and structure this change so that a child can successfully take on this new role.

Change Transition with Settings: Of all the transitions that children go through this one seems to cause the highest anxiety and in this case I mean from school to school, early intervention to preschool, preschool to elementary…The major item to keep in mind for this is PLAN, PLAN, PLAN and SHARE, SHARE, SHARE

Plan what need to be done for a successful transition from one setting to another and share information from current support individuals to new support individuals.

Change Transition with Access: This is one change that is not always needed but when it is there needs to be a plan. For individuals who use alternative access that access method may change due to change in how their body functions or just a change due to mastery of an access method as they practice over time.

  1. For these students please remember that you have a Team and your friendly O.T. will work with you to keep tabs on this.

We have filled out the above Chart with the following examples that are hopefully self-explanatory Goals/Support Who/Support What/Support Specifics:

Hopefully with understanding what those transitions are and how a vision of where we are going hopefully Transitions can lose some of the fear factor!!

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