By Patrick Brune, M.S., CCC-SLP and Marleah Herman-Umpleby, M.S., CCC-SLP


Sometimes children with autism and other developmental conditions experience behavior issues that interfere with their augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device use. We’re pleased to present this series of three articles exploring common behavior challenges and ways to work through them toward successful communication. Here is the second article in the series.


Challenge 2: I can’t give my student a high-tech AAC device; he/she will just throw it.

Why? Behavior that includes throwing objects is often a way of telling us something. It’s our job to figure out what the student is trying to communicate.   We may not know exactly why they throw their AAC device, but most likely it’s because they are frustrated about something.

Could the “something” be that we are asking too much of them too soon? Or that they can’t find the right words or phrases to use to tell us something important? Then maybe we need to rethink how we are teaching them to use the AAC device

Once you determine possible reasons your student throws the device, you can provide a replacement strategy for that behavior.  Such strategies offer alternatives to negative behavior as well as ways to prevent it from happening in the first place.

What you can do:   Put on your detective hat. Take time to observe your student throughout the school day. What you’re looking for is really as simple as ABC:

  1. The A Consider what happens right before an incident. This occurrence is called the antecedent. Perhaps someone placed a demand on your student to use their AAC device. Maybe you saw that the student wanted to say something and attempted to find the needed words or phrases on the device without success.
  2. The B Notice what happens immediately following the behavior. What did you do when the student threw the device? Did they get attention for that action? What did the other students do?
  3. The C What consequences will there be for the student after throwing the device? This doesn’t necessarily mean punishment. A consequence could be a sensory break or simply putting the device back on the student’s desk, helping them find desired vocabulary and resuming the task at hand.

What if your student continues to throw the device?  Then you’ll want to change the antecedent.   This may happen gradually and requires awareness of your student. If, for instance, they’re looking intently at their device, maybe they are trying to find the phrase “I need a break” phrase.  Instead of asking, “What do you need?”, sit next to them and acknowledge that they have something to say. Use their device to show them where the desired phrase is and help them find it. Let them make their request using the device without pressure or demands. This replacement strategy is a hands-on way of teaching your student to use their device instead of engaging in a challenging behavior.

It’s possible your student is throwing the AAC device for a different reason altogether, so hold on to your detective hat. One tool that may give insight into why your student acts a certain way is a functional motivational assessment. This relatively quick and easy method of observation and data collection   lets you track situations where your student may be inclined to throw the device, allowing you to more proactively address behavior issues.

Whatever the outcome, know that Tobii Dynavox is proactive in supporting your efforts. Our devices are built to withstand extra tough situations.  Should an incident affect a device’s operation, we will work with you step by step. CLICK HERE for details.

While there is no guarantee that the throwing  will cease, tucking the device, ” safely” into a bag set out of the way  may be your worst recourse. With time and practice, your student’s communication abilities will likely improve, reducing the frustration that leads to challenging behaviors. Keeping that in mind may be your best bet.


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