The long and short of it with AAC

The long and short of it with AAC

How to play the long and short game with AAC.

Golf. Arguably the world’s most boring sport. For some of you, you love it, all power to you! For the majority though, the thought of watching someone in a polo top and checked pants hit a ball around a grassy patch gives you as much excitement as watching a kettle boil.

Myself, I am in the latter camp. However, golf offers us a great analogy that I must draw from so bear with me.

In golf you have the long game and the short game.

The long game is being able to drive a tiny white ball a couple hundred metres down the green. The short game being the skill needed to hit aforementioned tiny ball into tiny hole.

I think this reflects how we should be using AAC. We must have a great AAC long game and a great AAC short game. So, let’s look at this idea deeper.

The Short Game

Most of our energy goes into the short game. It is in front of us here and now and we want to help our AAC users experience success in their everyday life. We want to help them get their immediate wants and needs met. The short game is crucial for AAC success because the client and the clients support networks need to see early success for motivation and continued use.

What does a good short game look like?

I would suggest that to have a good AAC short game you need the following:

  • A way for them to get their immediate wants and needs met
  • The ability to connect socially with others
  • A way of communicating Independently, even if this is still developing
  • Being able to direct people in their environment

We understand the short game well. It is not hard for us to look at our clients and see the type of language that they need to communicate with. We are good at identifying immediate needs.

There are a couple ways we can support the short game. You could implement one of the following approaches in your therapy.

  1. Words first: As we take a developmental model to language learning in AAC we can easily identify the types of words that children should be using at their developmental age. Then we simply apply our modelling and implementation strategies to support AAC use.

  2. Activity first: Your short game might involve choosing some motivating activities for your client and then selecting a range of words that address multiple pragmatic functions in that activity. For example, if your client had restricted interests and only liked say stacking blocks, you could choose a bunch of words around this. E.g. put, on, more, stop, big, down, like, mine, red, yellow (blocks), block etc.

  3. Pragmatics first: Another short game approach may be to address some pragmatic difficulties your client may have. If they can request but they are unable to appropriately protest, you may want to chose words and activities where you can teach appropriate protesting language.

There are many different ways to play the short game. My point is, we get it. We are pretty good at supporting our clients in the short term. But there is something that often gets missed in AAC therapy and that is, remembering to play and plan for the long game.


The Long Game

The long game is arguably more important than the short game. In golf we start by driving the ball towards the hole, you know exactly where you want to end up. If you are starting off AAC therapy without a clear idea of where you want to end up, you will end up somewhere you don’t want to be.

The sad news is that for AAC users, this usually means device abandonment or a language system that doesn’t allow them to reach their fullest potential.

So, what does a good long game look like? It begins at the very start, the moment you first think that AAC could be a powerful tool for someone.

You need to ask yourself some of these questions before starting so that you have an end point in mind.


  1. What system is going to meet their needs now and in 10 years from now?

Imagine you are able to use the same system for 10 years. Think about the speed of which you would be able to use it. Or for someone with cognitive impairments, imagine 10 years of using a system where words don’t change position, where they can practice saying words and know that it will always be in that spot for them.

Having a system like this makes sense, right? It does, but unfortunately this is more uncommon then common. Most individuals for whatever reason tend to jump between

language systems. I am sure you have seen it before where someone has come to you and they have tried Key Word Sign, PECS, Proloqou2go, PODD and a myriad of other idiosyncratic methods of communicating.

A system that can be used long term has to be flexible and meet immediate and long term needs. Go through this criterion for selecting an appropriate system:

  • Can words be masked?
  • Does it have all eight parts of speech? (Nouns, verbs, prepositions etc)
  • Is navigation simple? (1-4 hits per word?)
  • Does it offer thousands of words and all grammatical aspects of language? (verb tenses, adjective forms)
  • Can words always stay in the same position?

The above criteria can you help work out if a system you are considering will be a good long game solution. Of course, at Liberator we recommend people give Unity or LAMP Words for Life a trial as it ticks all those boxes and more!


  1. How do I set up a language system for the long game?

The process of masking can be crucial for the long game. Why? It significantly impacts AAC users when you keep changing the position of their words and the subsequent words per page. 

If you do this, you are essentially giving them a brand new AAC system every time. Systems that make you start at a smaller grid size, say 15 cells, and then move you through to a 36, 45, 60 etc are very limiting. You may as well just start at the 60! Starting at 60 is often only possible though when you can mask, as it decreases the cognitive demand when it is first introduced.

Why spend years working your way up to a 60 celled vocabulary when you can start at that level using masking. Imagine the mastery a child will reach if during the early brain explosion years (0-7), they are using the same vocabulary they will end up with.

There you have it folks, that is the long and short of AAC. Know where you are heading before you start, select a system that will grow with them without having to change the systems layout and implement well in the short term.


Liberator can be contacted directly on (08) 8211 7766 if you have any questions regarding the services we provide (consultant support, therapy and mentoring). Alternatively, you can check out our website here: for information on our products and services and tonnes of downloadable resources.


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