Writing Meaningful Objectives for AAC Users

We’ve all been there: you’ve worked hard with your team to develop a communication system for an individual with complex communication needs (CCN). Now that the manual symbol board and/or voice output device is ready, what should happen next?

Steps in Planning:

  1. First get some good baseline data. You will want to document:
    • The vocabulary the AAC user already uses and knows. This needs to be measured in natural interactions for the most part.
    • The language level of the AAC user: single words only, word combinations, grammatical sentences, etc.
    • The type(s) of prompting needed to access the AAC system. The context or device that require prompts by the AAC user. The frequency that the AAC system is used with prompting, independently or at some level in between (i.e., describe the level of prompt that is needed if any).
    • The contexts in which the AAC system is used. (With what partners, in what situations, with what prompts, etc.)
    • The types of communicative functions the AAC user can express. (Requests, inquiries, comments, compliments, etc.)
    • The other communication strategies that augment the AAC user’s communication. (Facial expressions, gestures, vocalizations, speech that family members understand, etc.)
  2. Determine what your goals would be if the individual did NOT need an AAC system. This keeps the focus on using the AAC system in meaningful activities that nurture improved interaction with a variety of partners.

    Examples: To learn new vocabulary, develop or improve syntax, communicate with family, peers, teachers, etc.

    Strategies: Observe typical children or adults in the situations that interest the individual with CCN and in the interactions that will be required (i.e., interactions with teachers or employers) to learn what the communication demands will be. Talk to other team members about their interactions with the AAC user to find out how to plan for generalization of the skills across partners/contexts. Think about each team member’s hopes and dreams for the individual with CCN. Be sure to carefully consider the user’s ideas about the potential of the AAC system.

  3. Write objectives that are meaningful, measureable and specify a generalization component.

    Avoid attaching percentages to objectives unless this is really functional. For example: Susie will maintain eye contact with 80% accuracy is NOT an appropriate objective because it cannot be measured reliably, and it is probably socially off-putting to teach the individual to stare intently at communication partners.

    A better example would be: Using one or more components of her AAC system (vocalizations, messages on her voice output device, and gestures) Susie will respond by looking up, making eye contact and saying “hello” within 3 seconds after 2 different peers greet her at recess on 5 consecutive days.

    This objective is measurable, meaningful and elicits input from other team members to determine if Susie has been successful. Objectives may also address other elements of language and communication such as sequencing symbols to create messages, increasing the frequency with which the individual initiates interactions, and increasing the number of communicative functions that are expressed.

  4. For individuals who have behavior problems, a primary objective may be to establish efficient, socially acceptable ways to reject what is offered, ask for a break, etc.
    • Test how functional and meaningful your objectives are by thinking about whether an individual who can speak without an AAC system would do what you have described.
    • Remember that increasing the number of opportunities an AAC user has to interact, training potential partners and teaching the AAC user to advocate for him/herself will all be crucial elements of successful AAC intervention. Partners need to a) model the use of the AAC system, b) practice asking open-ended questions, c) wait for a response and d) accept descriptive responses generated via access of core vocabulary on devices and manual boards.
  5. Always support literacy: offer access to spelling as reading skills emerge or are recovered.

One final thought: pushing buttons and touching picture symbols on command are NOT examples of good intervention objectives because these activities do not give the individual with CCN a voice. Satisfying social relationships develop when individuals express ideas that are meaningful and appropriate. So remember that communication is the goal, and the technology should be the vehicle by which the AAC user accesses the language needed to participate more fully in work, school and social activities.

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