LAMP - AAC and Autism

LAMP from The Center for AAC and Autism is a Speech and Language Therapy strategy that increases the ability of individuals with autism and speech difficulties, to communicate independently and spontaneously.

What is LAMP?

Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) is a therapeutic approach based on neurological and motor learning principles. The goal is to give individuals who are nonverbal or have limited verbal abilities a method of independently and spontaneously expressing themselves in any setting.

LAMP focuses on giving the individual independent access to vocabulary on voice output AAC devices that use consistent motor plans for accessing vocabulary. Teaching of the vocabulary happens across environments, with multisensory input to enhance meaning, with the child's interests and desires determining the vocabulary to be taught.


The LAMP approach was developed by utilizing motor learning principles along with the Unity® language system for the treatment of nonverbal individuals who use an augmentative device to communicate.

When LAMP strategies were used with nonverbal children with autism, they were found to increase the ability of the children to communicate spontaneously in any environment using unique combinations of words to express themselves.

It was often noted that as communication skills improved, social engagement increased, problematic behaviours declined, and some individuals exhibited increased verbal speech.



Individuals with autism may have dysfunction in motor planning and sensory processing which are addressed with this approach. The LAMP approach continues to be enriched with the emergence of new information in neurology and motor learning and through the successes and struggles shared by parents, therapists, and emerging communicators. We are learning together!


Lamp Flowchart


Language Connections:

Words are the Building Blocks of Language

The majority of spoken language is composed of novel combinations of words. If a person had a transcript of everything he had said during the day, it would be unlikely that any phrase or sentence would be duplicated. In order for a non-verbal individual to be able to generate whatever he wants to say, their AAC system needs to be word-based rather than phrase-based because words can be combined in unlimited ways for expression, but phrases cannot. Words allow for independent expression while phrase based systems are typically dependent someone other than the speaker to predict communication needs.

The ability to “say” individual words on an AAC device may help the child with auditory processing problems to be able to discriminate each word and its meaning rather than understanding chunks of words as a whole. An autistic child may hear “I want computer” as a single utterance and only be able to use those words to get the computer. When individual words are taught and there is the ability to say each word individually, then the meaning of each word can be understood and then these words can used in different ways.

Frequently used Words are Emphasized

The most frequently occurring words in speech, core words, are emphasized and typically taught first. There are more opportunities during the day to use the word “more” than the word “cookie” and is therefore more powerful. The word would be taught across several activities so the meaning of the word can be refined. In spoken language, words can have multiple meanings. You can “turn it on,” “turn it off,” “turn around,” “make a U-turn,” and say, “my turn.” The manner in which “turn” is accessed should be the same in all these utterances. The ability to access individual words, allows the user to combine them to mean different things based on the words around them.

Language System

The language system chosen should adhere to the above mentioned principles: consistent motor plans that don’t change based on the activity or the individual’s language progression, access to individual words, and the ability to access a word one way to express all the meanings of that word.

The Unity Language System is typically utilized when implementing the LAMP approach as it contains features important in developing automaticity and language. Core and fringe words are accessed using consistent motor plans. Also, Unity uses multi-meaning icons which allows access to a large vocabulary with 1-3 keystrokes. Single meaning picture systems typically require so many pictures that the systems become a cognitive challenge for the user to navigate the pages or categories to find the picture. Navigation of pages and categories does not allow for the development of automaticity. A possible additional benefit of Unity is that the abstractness of the icons may enhance the user’s ability to use them to express the multiple meanings of words. For example, using a “concrete picture” of a boy running to say “running” may make it difficult for the autistic individual to use the same icon to say, “my nose is running” or “I don’t like running water.”


Auditory Signals:  Particular motor movements are executed, learned and repeated based on the feedback received. On a voice output communication device where words are accessed with a consistent motor plan, each motor plan is paired with consistent auditory output. Even when there is not a communication partner, language learning can occur as the word or words that matched particular motor movements are heard. Voice output allows the individual to “babble.”

Consistent and Unique Motor Patterns:  The primary principle of the LAMP approach is that the motor plan a person uses to utter a word cannot be changed once it is learned. In order to communicate effectively, a person has to be able to monitor his environment, listen to another speaker, and follow the flow of the conversation. This cannot happen effectively if he has to cognitively attend to the icons, categories, and locations of vocabulary on his device.

Our brain develops motor plans to control movements that we use over and over again so that they may occur automatically. Examples of everyday activities for which we use motor plans include typing, handwriting, tying shoes, and certain aspects of driving a car.

When verbal individuals talk, they don’t have to concentrate on how to make the sounds that make up words; they concentrate on the idea of what they want to convey. The same principle hold true with an augmentative communication device as it replaces our articulators. If the motor movement required to say a word changes from one activity to another or over the course of an individual’s life as his need for vocabulary grows, his ability to access his vocabulary will not become automatic.


Shared Focus:  When introducing an AAC device, the communication partner should follow the child’s lead and introduce and expand vocabulary around the child’s interests. When the child chooses the activity, he is more likely to remain engaged. Spontaneous, child-led intervention encourages the child to communicate naturally. Natural communication tends to generalize more readily than when vocabulary is taught in structured, compliance biased activities. Communication should be rewarding for the child and not feel like work. As the non-verbal individual begins to understand the power of communication, you will typically see increased joint-attention and engagement.


Readiness to Learn: In order to learn, an individual must be in an arousal state compatible for attending and learning. For individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, achieving and maintaining this state of “readiness to learn” can be challenging.

Sensory techniques to help that individual maintain an optimal level of arousal need to be incorporated into treatment sessions. Not only do sensory motor activities help to modulate an individual’s level of arousal, but they tend to be inherently motivating and enjoyable for the child. To keep the individual’s interest, it is necessary to follow their lead in determining the vocabulary to be introduced to match their desire to communicate. Natural, intrinsically motivating activities tend to encourage interactive communication and engagement, while maintaining the individual’s interest more so than activities that require a particular response or compliance.

Natural Consequences:  We attach meaning to words by what occurs when they are used. To teach language, the communicative partner should provide an animated reaction to the utterance, provide the requested activity/or item, or somehow in some way provide an appropriate response to enhance the meaning of the uttered word. The consequence provided needs to be intrinsically rewarding for the child. Responses that are playful, fun, or involve the interests of the non-verbal individual will keep them engaged much longer than activities that are rote, drill, and compliance based.



The Goal

As a result of intervention using the LAMP approach, it is hoped that the individual will gain the ability to independently and spontaneously communicate whatever they want to say.

Learning a language takes many years for the neurologically typical individual. LAMP is not a cure. LAMP is a method for providing an individual with a language system that can progress from first words to fluent communication.

Many individuals using the LAMP approach have demonstrated success with some becoming very communicative and some increasing the amount of their verbal speech.


Please visit The Center for AAC and Autism website for further information

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