AAC for Speech-Language Pathologists

AAC in the IEP

How to write about AAC in a child's education plan.

***Please note these are suggestions.  All IEPs MUST be individualized to meet the unique needs of each student. 

If a student needs AAC, then it is important for that information to be included in the IEP.  This ensures that the student will have the communication supports they need to participate in education. This also helps to ensure everyone on the student’s team will have some basic insight into the student’s communication and the system being used.  

AAC is considered Assistive Technology as per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  IDEA Sec. 300.5 defines assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.” (https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.5)

AAC is considered educationally necessary when it is required for a student to access the curriculum and participate in public education.  In most cases, if a student has complex communication needs and uses AAC, then these supports are an educational necessity and must be included in the IEP.  ASHA discusses more about educational/medical necessity here: https://www.asha.org/NJC/Funding-for-Services/

Are schools required to buy a student’s AAC device?  If AAC is written into the student’s IEP, then yes the district is required to provide the system/device to be in compliance.  In some states, if the district purchases the device with district funds then the device does NOT belong to the student themselves.  If the student moves away or graduates, the district may keep the device because they own it.  Some states allow districts to access specialized funds to purchase equipment.  In these cases, the ownership of the device depends on the funds used.  In Pennsylvania, this is through the School-Based ACCESS Program.  A district CANNOT require a family to use insurance to purchase a device that is educationally necessary for a student.  The family has the right to use their insurance though and then the device is 100% owned by the student.  

A student’s AAC should be available to them at all times.  Students need to be able to work on their communication skills throughout their entire day, not just in the classroom.  This ensures that students are given the opportunity to work on their functional communication skills.  They need to be able to communicate at home, over the weekend, and on summer vacation.  It is important that the IEP states the student should have access to their device at all times (if the device belongs to the district, the IEP should state that the student can take the device home).  IDEA Sec. 300.105 states “each public agency must ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both…On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child’s home or in other settings is required if the child’s IEP Team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE.” (https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/b/300.105)

Here are some tips for including AAC in a student’s IEP: 

Check the AT Needs Box → Yes! This student has AT Needs! 

Present Levels

  • Use this section to describe how the student communicates (strengths/weaknesses, what works, systems used, etc.)
  • Describe the AAC system (don’t name a specific device) by features
  • Discuss the student’s progress uses their AAC system
  • Include any recommendations for implementing the AAC system (e.g., device needs to be placed on desk, charging the device, staff modeling instructions, etc.)

Goals and Objectives 

  • Goals and objectives should be achievable, functional, and measurable 
  • Goals and objectives should be written to account for ALL communication modalities (we want to honor all communication attempts a student makes and all methods the student uses). 
  • Examples of curriculum-aligned goals (NOTE: PA curriculum standards are used below): 
Curriculum Standard  Concept and Competencies Goal Example
1.2 PK.J: Use new vocabulary and phrases acquired in conversations and being read to.  The learner will: 

  • Talk about pictures using new vocabulary words or phrases. 
  • Use new vocabulary in the context of dramatic play, daily routines, and classroom observations. 
  • Begin to use new vocabulary when asking questions or describing situations or objects. 
During a play activity, student will use target core vocabulary in 80% of opportunities following a model given minimal supports. 
1.3 PK. G: Describe pictures in books using detail.  The learner will: 

  • Attach action and descriptive words to illustrations. (e.g., “That man in the yellow hat is running fast.”)
Given a visual stimuli, student will generate 2 word/icon object+action sequence in 80% of opportunities following a model given minimal supports.  
Curriculum Standards and Concept and Competences derived from PA Early Learning Standards: https://www.education.pa.gov/Documents/Early%20Learning/Early%20Learning%20Standards/Early%20Learning%20Standards%20-%20Prekindergarten%202014.pdf

Related Services

  • Speech-Language Therapy Direct Services
    • May be used for the student’s direct therapy services 
  • Assistive Technology Devices and Services 
    • May be used for programming of the device, training/technical assistance for the student 

Supports for School Personnel 

  • Assistive Technology (or AAC) Consultation 
    • Training for teachers and staff on how to use the student’s device, how to model, device implementation, etc. 
    • Frequency will refer to the recommended minimum number of training sessions for staff. 

Supplementary Aids and Services

  • Describe the student’s device by features NOT the brand specific device 
    • If a specific device is named then that exact device MUST be provided for IEP compliance
    • Sometimes technology breaks, get left somewhere, etc.  When this happens, a backup option needs to be used.
    • If a specific device MUST be included in the IEP, be sure to provide contingency plans/examples of appropriate backups, etc. 
    • Lauren Enders talks more about this on her PrAACticalAAC Blog Post: https://praacticalaac.org/praactical/how-i-do-it-aac-in-the-iep/


  • Consider transition (to middle or high school, to after graduation, employment, etc.) from the start.  Set the student up for success across all life transitions. 
  • Include transition-related goals and objectives.
  • Describe the plan for the student’s transition.  For example, if a student is graduating, will they be able to take their AAC system with them?  If not, what is the plan for the student to obtain their own system? 
  • When writing a Summary of Performance for graduating students, include a statement about their communication supports.  This will be extremely useful to them for getting accommodations in postsecondary education and/or employment.