Assessment and Communicative Competence for the AAC User

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about AAC evaluation. What makes a good AAC eval? How can you sift through all of the apps and devices out there to feature match the best device for each individual client? There’s so much to consider and there’s no one size fits all tool.

I want to share what I’ve found to be most helpful so far:

1. The AAC Evaluation Genie app for iPad

*This app has 14 subtests that measure different skills like: visual identification skills, visual discrimination skills, vocabulary, category recognition and other skills. At the end of each session you get a nice summary that you can print out and add to your assessment report. While I think AAC assessment is largely a qualitative process, it’s nice to have some “numbers” to support the recommendations I am making.

2. Janice Light’s Framework of Communicative Competence for individuals using AAC (Light, 1989).

*This article is a good one – easy to read and really seemed to set the stage for how people think about competence in using an AAC device. It’s worth a read, but here are the highlights that I want to keep in mind for future AAC assessment:

There are 3 components to the definition of communicative competence:

1. Functionality of Communication = Is the system functional for the individual? This will change based on the context. Yesterday, I was working with a student during a craft activity. He needed more glue, so I modeled asking for glue using his communication notebook. He followed my model and I handed him a crayon (my ultimate goal was to expose him to “different”). He happily began to color on his paper. Palm to forehead – I did not make this communication opportunity functional for him (or very motivating for that matter). He didn’t care about the glue or the crayon. Functionality of communication is ever-changing – make sure to look at the different environments and communication partners in addition to the person you are evaluating.

2. Adequacy of Communication = This means the student can adequately communicate what he/she needs in any given environment, at any given time. Adequacy does NOT mean mastery. Does anybody really have mastery over language?

3. Sufficiency of Knowledge, Judgement, & Skill in using the device = This component has four subcomponents to evaluate.

a. Linguistic competence = I think of this as the form and content of language. Don’t forget that an individual using an AAC device not only has to master the language of their device in order to express themselves (more on this later), but they also have to master the language that others are using around them (probably spoken) to understand what others are saying. That’s an important point to keep in mind…

b. Operational competence = can the individual operate the device? Some devices are pretty comprehensive and tech heavy. My AAC professor explained that we all have a set amount of cognitive resources. If you are devoting a lot of resources to just working the device, then you have less resources to devote towards using existing language skills to generate a message. For example, I cannot figure out how to type in this blog and carry on a conversation at the same time – just not happening.

c. Social Competence = There are two prongs to this one.

*Sociolinguistic – The use of language (pragmatics)

* Sociorelational – I will admit that I need to be reminded of this. Light (1988) states that these skills are important to the sociorelational characteristics of someone using AAC:
– positive self-image
– interest in others
– desire to communicate
– active participation in conversations
– responsiveness to partners
– ability to put partners at ease

I, for one, definitely need to look more into this, but it’s obvious that confidence is key.

d. Strategic Competence = If you’ve ever been to a country that you do not speak the language, you know this feeling. You don’t know how to say what you need to say, so you mime, give single words, and just do whatever you can to get the point across. It’s important that individuals using AAC are able to make the best of what they can do.

Whew… One last point – these skills CANNOT happen in isolation. A student may be able to whiz through a device, but if they are not functionally communicating with it – they are NOT a competent communicator.

I’m curious to hear what others are using for AAC assessment. Please share!

Light, J. (1989). Toward a Definition of Communicative Competence for individuals using augmentative and alternative communication systems. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 137-144.

Light, J. (1988). Interaction involving individuals using augmentative and alternative communication systems: State of the art and future directions for research. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 4, 66-82.


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