Tele-Collaboration in Speech and Hearing Sciences: Augmentative and Alternative Communication

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Selecting Vocabulary

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Introduction to Vocabulary Selection

Before we talk about HOW to select vocabulary, there are two principles of vocabulary selection that you must take to heart:

Principle #1: Whose vocabulary is this, anyway?

This vocabulary is for the AAC user, not anyone else. However, there are many reasons why others may have to select vocabulary. Whether it is a therapist who knows a lot about language or a familiar partner who knows a lot about the AAC user, those selecting vocabulary must have the user in mind at all times. The vocabulary must reflect what he or she wants to say, not what others want said.

Principle #2: Vocabularies are always changing.

Everyone uses vocabularies that change and evolve over time. Speaking children increase their vocabulary every day, adding new words for new concepts as they mature. Speaking adults also change their vocabulary, replacing old-fashioned words with newer slang ("rad!"), adding words for new concepts ("cyberspace") and adding new words to reflect new interests ("sonata").

AAC users are no different; their vocabulary must grow and evolve over time. If you also realize that it is extraordinarily difficult to provide a complete vocabulary in the first place, you can see that our work is NEVER done. Vocabularies are NEVER finished.

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Techniques for different types of communicators

So selecting vocabulary is not easy and it is never done. But where do we start? Well, that depends on the current expressive communication abilities of the individual. The tools we use to select vocabulary for an individual who is just starting with AAC will be quite different from the tools we use for the expert AAC user. In our work, we find there are three groups of AAC users and the techniques are specific to each group.

1. For Emerging Alternative Communicators:

Emerging communicators are individuals who do not yet have any reliable means of symbolic communication. They typically have non-symbolic communication via gestures, facial expression, pointing, but they do not have a way to talk about concepts beyond the "here and now". They may be learning to use AAC, but are not yet entirely reliable with it.

Examples of Emerging Alternative Communicators:
* a boy with severe motor impairment who cannot access AAC.
* a girl using Picture Exchange, but choosing symbols randomly.
* an adult who cannot speak following a traumatic injury and does not yet have a reliable yes/no signal.
* a girl with severe motor impairment, using a voice output device via a switch that she cannot control reliably.

Note: The term "Emerging" only refers to the individual's expressive communication. It is not a reflection of the receptive language or cognition and certainly not a predictor of their potential abilities with AAC.

The goal of intervention for these individuals is to identify the first reliable method of symbolic communication. To do that most easily, we need to select vocabulary that is powerful and motivating to the individual. For techniques to select vocabulary for these individuals, click here: Emerging Communicators.

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2. For Context-Dependent Communicators

These are the individuals who do have a reliable means of symbolic communication, but they cannot communicate with everyone about everything. They are limited either:

* by the partners who understand them or
* by the vocabulary that they can use

Examples of Context-Dependent Alternative Communicators:
* a boy who is successfully using communication boards for snack time and circle time, but has no other vocabulary.
* a girl using Picture Exchange very well, when it is offered to her.
* a man with severely unintelligible speech that only his wife can understand.
* a 10-year-old girl who is successful with a voice output device but it has only 100 vocabulary selections and no way to produce unique messages.

Note: As above, this grouping only refers to the individual's expressive communication. It is not a reflection of the receptive language or cognition and certainly not a predictor of potential abilities with AAC.

The goal of intervention for these individuals is to expand communication across contexts and across partners. Often this is done by expanding the available vocabulary. .For techniques to select vocabulary for context-dependent communicators, click here: Context-Dependent Communicators.

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3. For Independent Communicators

These are the individuals who can talk with (practically) anyone about (practically) anything. This means that these individuals have:

* 1) a reliable method of communication that permits the creation of novel utterances (a "generative" vocabulary system)
* 2) Spelling and grammar skills that are necessary to create those utterances.

If these individuals can communicate about all topics, why do we need to select any vocabulary for these individuals? Well, you will see that for some individuals, assistance with vocabulary selection can improve the efficiency of their communication.

The goal of intervention for these individuals is to increase the speed and reduce any fatigue from communication. For techniques to select vocabulary for independent communicators, click here: Independent Communicators.

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University of Washington, Dept. of Speech & Hearing Sciences, Tele-Collaboration Project. 1999-2002, UW-SPHSC, including all photographs and images unless otherwise noted. Comments: URL: