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 first article in the series.


Challenge 1:  My student is not interested in using their augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.

Why? This can happen for are several reasons. Let’s look closely at three common ones.


First, consider the emotions your student might have around using the device.  Research shows that individuals with similar attitudes can more easily create friendships with peers when everyone feels the same.  Conversely, it is difficult for a person to be accepted into a group when they’re seen as different than their peers. Students who use AAC and typical peers may engage in more successful peer interactions and social acceptance when they all feel a sense of uniformity. (Beck et. al, 2002).   In other words, sometimes kids just want to fit in.  Using an AAC device can set them apart.  Often it is hard to get a student to accept their AAC device or use it outside the therapy room.  Motivating them to use the device when interacting with peers who do not need one can, at times, seem impossible.


What can you do?  Ask to join the AAC evaluation team if you’re not on it already. You can inform and influence other team members on issues pertinent to your student’s device use. It is wise to support the recommendation of an AAC device that looks and acts like the technology other kids are using. A device that mirrors other technology used in the classroom is also a good fit.  Think about it. The more it blends in, the less “different” or “special” it will appear, fostering a more inclusive atmosphere. You contribute to that atmosphere as you encourage your student to use the device thoroughly throughout the school day.


Keep in mind that AAC devices once seldom resembled popular technologies. That has changed dramatically over time. Today’s devices are smaller, lighter and sleeker than before Very often they have the same hardware found in personal tablet computers.


The Tobii Dynavox T10 and Tobii Dynavox Compass software are leading this trend. A dedicated communication device sporting a familiar tablet design, the T10 offers the durability and robust language elements your students need. Its Compass software is also available as a subscription app for commonly used tablets.


At Tobii Dynavox, we understand that attitudes shape interactions between augmented communicators and their typical peers and successful interactions happen when students feel positive toward each other. A child’s use of progressive AAC technologies can be a catalyst for such interactions and ultimately for good social relationships.



Another reason your student may not want to use the AAC device is because its language content doesn’t suit their needs. Every student you meet has words and phrases uniquely important to them. Easy access to this preferred vocabulary is a top priority for students with AAC devices. Such vocabulary includes:

  • Names of important people and places
  • Words and phrases supporting frequent activities (getting ready for school, social events, recreational activities, games, etc.)


  • Language for everyday classroom communication including vocabulary that supports the curriculum and class participation. Phrases the student can use to ask for help, request breaks and answer questions on their own make school life easier.


What can you do? You don’t have to be a programming wiz to make personalization of device content a priority.  One of your best assets is awareness not just of the day-to-day vocabulary your student requires, but of how others in their age group like to say things. Your student likely will be very motivated to use a device offering that kind of language.

A good tool for device personalization is an AAC Needs Assessment, a simple checklist detailing the student’s AAC use including their preferred communication modes; their (and their partners’) communication skills; favorite or frequent conversation topics and communication environment/situations. The assessment can be completed during the initial AAC evaluation or on an ongoing basis after the device recommendation.

AAC companies regularly offer practical advice on device personalization. Members of the online community can join group discussions 24/7 with the Tobii Dynavox technical support team, clinical implementation specialists and most important, their AAC team members and peers who use AAC devices.  At, you’ll also find a comprehensive collection of resources, tips and research-based practices handy for those with aT10 and/or Compass software.


A third key reason for your student’s lack of interest is twofold: They may be embarrassed to use their AAC device in front of classmates and frustrated because they’re required to do something that no one else has to. A resulting sense of isolation may cause your student to want to abandon the device.

What can you do?   In such cases, it’s critical to get the whole team on board to help. The team can include anyone the student sees on a regular basis—parents, teachers, therapists and the school principal. Together, you can develop a strategy for motivating your student to use the AAC device each day.

Current AAC technologies truly are shared solutions, easily aligned with a universal classroom design that can motivate your student’s device use. Other students can simultaneously learn and benefit from AAC technology in unprecedented ways, often at no cost. The value in terms of raising awareness of learning differences and similarities is incomparable.


A student can learn to use their device to participate more fully in classroom instruction and social exchanges by watching someone else do the same, a practice known as modeling. You can use a technique called partner-augmented input (PAI) combining your use of the technology and speech to encourage the student to use their device as communication opportunities occur. Modeling and PAI can optimize teachable moments while easing any pressure to perform.



This is where tools such as the Tobii Dynavox Compass companion app and free editing software can come in.    Students with a Tobii Dynavox T10 have access to the companion app, which can be downloaded to an IOS- or Android-based personal computer. The Tobii Dynavox Compass editing software (without speech capabilities) can be downloaded to a personal computer.


Remember, relationships make AAC device use successful. Classroom teachers and school speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can facilitate a student’s AAC device use through informal peer training during which the SLP models device use for the student and classmates in a game or social activity. Classmates do not need to prompt or model for the student—they just join in the fun with the same technology at their fingertips. The result? A real-life lesson in breaking communication barriers!








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