Language Acquisition Using AAC

Speech and Language Staff
June 19, 2018

The early stages of learning any new language is immersion into that language, seeing others use it, and interacting with others who are using it. The same is true for people with complex communication needs using AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication). Language modeling is a necessary method of learning language, regardless the modality of the language.

The Study

To find out more about the role of language modeling in AAC, Sennott, Light, and McNaughton (2016) analyzed 10 studies; nine case studies and one group design. The studies included a total of 94 children, aged two to twelve years, with a range of disabilities: nine children with cerebral palsy, seven children with Down syndrome, and 15 children with other disabilities (autism, developmental delay, childhood apraxia of speech, cystic hygroma, velopharyngeal insufficiency, DiGeorge syndrome, and Prader–Willi syndrome). Communication partners across the 10 studies included speech therapists, parents, and educational or clinical assistants. Five of the studies are considered partner-training interventions where the researchers trained parents and educational supporters and then measured the partner–child dyad’s performance during the treatment.

The Results

Being immersed in the language of AAC through modeling (aka, language input), where multiple communication partners are using their AAC system when speaking to them, can significantly improve language development in a number of ways. According to Sennott, Light, and McNaughton (2016), clients can greatly benefit from AAC modeling by their communication partners in the following aspects of language:

Pragmatic Language

Eight beginning communicators aged 4 to 8 years old, showed an increase in the frequency of communicative turns using AAC on SGDs, in the context of shared story book reading.

Semantic Knowledge

Seventy-two participants aged 2 to 12 years, revealed an increase in vocabulary knowledge in response to AAC modeling during story book reading/arts and crafts/meal times, as well as modest speech increases, reinforcing the notion that AAC intervention does not impede speech development.


Eleven participants, aged 2 to 5 years, demonstrated an increase in multi-symbol utterances in the context of play and shared storybook reading.


Three participants, aged 6 to 11 years, showed improvements in the acquisition of morphemes such as “plural -S,” “present progressive -ING,” “past tense -ED,” and “possessive ’S,’” in the context of book reading.


The evidence revealed positive results; however, future research is needed to determine the roles of language level, intellectual functioning, and fast mapping ability, as well as whether AAC modeling is an effective intervention across the life span.


Sennott, S. C., Light, J. C., & McNaughton, D. (2016). AAC modeling intervention research review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41(2), 101-115. doi:10.1177/1540796916638822d


Photo by CSLOT Staff

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