Aided Language Stimulation – Top Tips for Communication Partners

Aided Language Stimulation – Top Tips for Communication Partners

This is a must read post by our NSW consultant Jo Beech on modelling. It is practical and useful for anyone looking for strategies and resources to improve their own practice. 

Did you know?


The average 18 month old has been exposed to 4,380 hours of

oral language at a rate of 8 hours/day from birth.

A child who has a communication system and

receives speech-language therapy two times per

week for 20-30 minute sessions will reach this

same amount of language exposure in 84 years.

(Jane Korsten)


It may be simple math, but these numbers are truly confronting! It shows us how crucial it is for AAC users to be surrounded by communication partners who are confident to model language to them on their AAC system. This means that family members, friends, teachers, therapists, carers - everyone, speaking and modelling language using their AAC system, all the time! This is known as aided language stimulation.

Recently, Tracy Kovach and Debbie Witkowsi's (Semantic Compaction Systems) presented a webinar titled 'The Four Pillars of Successful AAC Outcomes; Communication Partner Training'. They shared some key findings from the literature about the benefits of aided language stimulation.

  • Increases symbol comprehension and use (Drager et al,2006; Harris and Reichle, 2004)
  • Provides models for appropriate language and use (Cafiero, 1998)
  • Provides users with a model for how AAC can be used and for what purposes (Romski and Sevcik, 1996)
  • Is an effective method for teaching grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary (Lund, 2004)
  • Improves utterance length and complexity (Bruno and Trembath, 2006)

These results were also reported in a systematic review of the literature, conducted by Samuel C. Sennott, Janice C. Light, and David McNaughton (2016). The authors found that aided language stimulation lead to improvements in all areas of communication, including increased turn taking, increased understanding and use of vocabulary, increased sentence length and use of grammatical morphemes.


You can use different strategies to model language to an AAC user

  1. 'Self Talk' - speak about what you are doing in the moment whilst pointing to the symbols on the users' AAC system. You can model the complete sentence, or just the key words in your sentence.
  2. 'Recasting' – Respond to the AAC user, by repeating their phrase back to them on their AAC system, without errors.

For example:

User: “I willn’t go”

Communication Partner: “You won’t go?"


  1. ' Expansion' – Respond to the AAC user, by repeating their phrase back to them, with a few extra words and/or more complex grammar added.

For example:  

User: “Doggy eat.”

Communication Partner: “Yes, the doggy is eating grass.”


Watch Gail Van Tatenhove use these strategies with an AAC user.

Augmented Interaction with Aided Language Stimulation.flv


Top tips for communication partners

  1. Presume potential.

Expect that the user can learn and will benefit from AAC and aided language modelling.


  1. Always make the AAC system available!

Make sure it's charged, out of their bag and with them wherever they go!


  1. WAIT!

It's very easy to keep on talking, but make sure you pause after you speak and model and wait for the user to respond.


  1. Learn the language in their AAC system.

Each low tech and high tech AAC system will have its own symbols, pages and layout. To begin with, you may want to learn the location of a small number of core words, along with favourite nouns (people, places, items) and practice finding them in the system. Set yourself the goal of learning 5 new words each week. Some systems may have a ‘word finder’ feature, which show you where to locate specific words.  If you're not sure what core words are, there are some examples here.  (


  1. Make a plan.

Think about the types of words/phrases you will model with the user ahead of time. You can use this handout help you plan this out. ( You may want to write out a script for yourself, to think about the types of core words/word combinations you could model. You can user this AAC script/ Here is an example of an AAC script. (


  1. Model a variety of words.

There are lots of different words you can model. Not only words to request (‘want it’, ‘more’) but to reject (‘don't want’), protest (‘stop it!’) to comment (‘good’, ‘Oh no!’), describe (e.g. ‘The big, green apple’), to greet ('hey!) or to ask a questions (e.g. 'who', 'what', where').


  1. Respond to all communication attempts.

When you’re speaking with the AAC user, observe their facial expressions, vocalisations, gestures or words generated on their AAC system.   We need to acknowledge any cues given and treat these as intentional forms of communication. If you're unsure what they're trying to say, you might say something like "I can see you're looking at the _____, does this meant you want ____" or "I'm not sure you're trying to tell me. Do you mean this?" and find the word on their AAC system.


  1. Use open ended question. Allow the user to ' show what they know' and take the lead. For example, instead of asking, "Did you have a good day", consider asking "Tell me about your day".


For more tips and helpful resources, visit the links below.

  • Communication partner 'Dos and Dont's'


  • Video: Aided Language Stimulation Explained.

Aided Langauge Stimulation Explained


  • How We Do It: S’MORRES and Partner Augmented Input with Dr. Jill Senner & Matthew Baud


  • Saltillo webinar. Gretchen Storm - Training Communication Partners by Simplifying the Task of Modeling

Training Communication Partners by Simplifying the Task of Modeling-  Gretchen Storm, MS, CCC-SLP


  • Journal Article ‘ AAC Modelling Intervention Research Review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities’

Sennott, S. C., Light, J. C., McNaughton, D. (2016). AAC Modelling Intervention Research Review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41(2), 101-115. Retrieved from

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