Modeling AAC with Adults

Image of a man using AAC and someone modeling a word

When you search the internet for videos on modeling AAC, the majority are of children, often in school settings.  This might lead one to wonder if modeling is an effective strategy to use with older students or adults, and what that would look like? The answer is yes, the research shows that it is.

How do we define modeling? To quote the work of Sennott, Light, & McNaughton (201, it is “AAC modeling as a primary component of… intervention, defined as the communication partners (a) modeling aided AAC as they speak and (b) participating in the context of a naturalistic communication interaction.”

In other words, it is using the AAC device, whether high tech or low tech, to engage in conversation and show the learner how their words are organized.  It is having a conversation about important, everyday topics, in context, and demonstrating that the communication device is a valuable and valued means for that communication.  It is building social relationships by showing that you use the device, too, and respect the feedback of your partner. It is also about recognizing and responding to the other forms of communication we are offered.

It is inviting, not forcing, someone to engage in the dance of a communicative exchange.  

Don’t worry, you do not have to be perfect.  You do not need to have memorized that layout of the vocabulary on the device.  You can explore together. Talk about what you are doing: “Let’s see, where can we find that word? Maybe it’s in Places…”  The process isn’t about perfection. It is about engagement.

For adults with intellectual disabilities, access to AAC (and modeling) is vital. How often does someone taken the time to sit with them and really listen?  How often does someone demonstrate that they truly want to hear what that person has to say?

Describing this is well and good, but what does modeling look like?  I have found several videos of adult AAC users and their partners. These conversations cover a variety of topics, some funny, some serious.  Some of the communication partners are parents, some are not. They are all taking the time to talk and to listen.  Click on the pictures below to see the videos.


Kendall is tired. He clearly had a long drive to see his therapist. Watch his smile and his body language as he participates in the conversation.

Image of a man using AAC


Kreed’s World

Watch Kreed decide what he wants to do with his free time.  See how mom responds to potential communication breakdowns.

Image of young man with sun glasses

Conversation in the car with Jesse

Listen to how mom responds to Jesse’s communication and reflects on what she says.  Hear how she expands her phrases into longer utterances.

Image of young woman in a car

Dealing with emotions

Kreed’s mom talks with him about a time when he became frustrated and lashed out.  She helps him to express his feelings, but doesn’t tell him what to say.

Image of a young man

I hope these videos provide a helpful glimpse into what an AAC conversation can look like.  Sadly, Kreed passed away in 2016. He did not get to live a long life, but he did have a voice.  As I find more videos that illustrate modeling and conversation with AAC, I will add them to this list.  Please let me know if you have any favorites. It is never too late to begin the journey towards communication.



Beck, A. R., Stoner, J. B., & Dennis, M. L. (2009). An Investigation of Aided Language Stimulation: Does it Increase AAC Use with Adults with Developmental Disabilities and Complex Communication Needs? Augmentative and Alternative Communication,25(1), 42-54. doi:10.1080/07434610802131059

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:10.1177/1540796916638822

Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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