Opening The Box

A person opening a box with a surprise inside

Now what?

  • This can be an exciting time for everyone involved in the life of the person getting the AAC device
  • Along with excitement can be a hint of fear, the fear of failure
  • You might also have concerns that the person will be confused
  • Or you might have concerns that the person might be rough with it and cause it to break
  • But if you leave it in the box, nothing will happen
  • Take a deep breath, and make the decision to get started.  Now, what do you do? Where do you start?

Tell the person the purpose of the device

  • Start by saying something like, “I know talking is hard. This is to help you tell people what you want and show EVERYONE how smart you are.”
  • If you just read that and thought, “The person won’t understand that. They have processing issues and won’t understand complex sentences” presume competence and try it anyway.
  • The person will understand two very important things: (a) That you are directly talking to them and (b) That your tone is saying something positive.


Make sure the person can access the screen

  • What you may think is comfortable, may not actually be comfortable for the person. Meet them where they are.
  • If the person has fine motor difficulties, consider changing the angle and location of the device.


Set up the language

  • Personalize the device with their own name, names of friends, favorites foods, activities, etc.
  • Give access to comments, questions, and phrases on their favorite topics of interest.
  • Give access to quick phrases and comments that will allow them to direct their own care or request preferred items when communicating with new caregivers.
  • Allow their sense of humor to shine through when using their new language.

What to teach first

  • The first minutes with a person who has never used AAC is all about getting them to engage and give attention.
  • Once the person is engaged, attempt to teach the location of words relating to the activity that they are engaged in
  • Begin to use the device yourself. The person will have no idea the device can be their voice unless they see it used by someone successfully to communicate.


Social Stories

  • Develop stories about the device and its use
  • These can be mini-books that help the person understand expected care and the changes in routines when using AAC
  • They can be written on a tablet, computer, or on paper
  • They can be shared over and over to help the person understand their communication device



  • Be patient with yourself and the person that needs AAC –it’s a slow learning process for everyone
  • Just keep at it
  • Believe that they can do it!


(Adapted from and




Print Materials

Alt image for concept handout

Related Videos

This video features a 15 year old using AAC for the first time.

Deepen Your Understanding

Setting up for AAC

  • Presume competence 
    We presume competence. Presuming competence affects how we make choices around AAC, and how we provide opportunities and access to words, communication functions and the alphabet. Presuming competence also means that there are no prerequisite skills or age requirements to start using AAC.
  • Select a balanced AAC system
    Select a balanced AAC system, based on core words with quick access to fringe vocabulary, and the alphabet
  • Choosing a grid size 
    Choose a grid size based on what the AAC user can see and touch, not based on cognitive skills, receptive language or what we think the AAC user can do.
  • Personalize vocabulary and system
    Personalize the vocabulary so the AAC user has access to important words. Customize the system settings to meet the AAC user’s needs.
  • Make AAC always available 
    Make every environment set up for instant access to AAC. AAC should always be available. Consider cases, straps, paper-based copies as well as having the device charged and turned on.
  • Get the team on board
    All members of the team know about AAC and are ready and willing to be a part of AAC learning.
  • Plan for AAC throughout the day
    Look at routines and make a plan for where, when and how AAC can be integrated in the day.

Starting communication

Start modeling
Point to words on the AAC system as we talk to the AAC user. Model regularly throughout the day. Model different reasons to communicate – not just requests. Model in conversations and natural interactions. For a long time, we provided users – especially those who are young or with cognitive and physical challenges – with only a few options. They quickly became uninterested and we thought it was because it was too hard. Sometimes, we tried to make it even simpler before everyone just gave up.

  • Now, we know better. We know that to teach someone to use the AAC system, we MUST use the system, too.
  • Activity-specific vs using balance vocabulary
    Use core words and fringe folders, rather than creating activity specific boards for everything.
  • Consider communication functions
    When we consider communication functions, we can plan and then model words that will build language and meaningful communication. We can expand an AAC user’s world beyond choice-making!
  • Build Communication Partner skills
    Communication Partners will model words on the AAC system. We wait, prompt & respond to the AAC users attempts at communication. We make comments, rather than ask questions and accept all forms of communication.
  • Engage and Interact
    Choose engaging and interesting activities, that give the AAC user motivation to communicate. Create opportunities for communication. Model on the AAC system during conversations and everyday interactions.

Potential Roadblocks to success

NOTE: Every AAC user is different! Be flexible at each phase of the journey!

Getting and providing support and training

Teams need support. Teams may need additional training, so that all members can have a shared basic understanding of AAC and AAC teaching methods. Developing a common understanding will help them to maintain momentum and keep moving forward in the AAC journey.

Some team members may come in with more experience or background knowledge. They can take a lead role in providing support and training to other team members.

You can also access support and training outside the team. Teams can utilize professional learning opportunities at conferences, workshops or online.

Teams may also wish to watch useful training videos found at these sites:

You may also wish to follow these useful blogs and websites:

Supporting Research

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.