They Can Request With AAC, Now What?!

So, your student, client, or child can request using augmentative alternative communication (AAC). Now What?! 

Let me give you some examples of requesting:

"I want a drink."


"Me please."

"My turn."

"Get it."

There is SO much more than requesting that all humans should have access to. But, even if we know we want to add more communicative intent to our student/client/child's inventory, how do we facilitate that?

It's all in the modeling

It really is. We need to model (when we demonstrate and help a person use their AAC system) more types of sentences and communicative functions.

Here are the eight communicative functions listed in the Communication Intention Inventory (CII). They were considered to be representative of early intentional communication. These categories can be used to determine intervention goals (Austin, 2013):

1. Comment on action

2. Comment on object

3. Request for action

4. Request for object

5. Request for information

6. Answering a request for information

7. Acknowledging that a previous gesture or utterance was received

8. Protesting

Working on these communicative functions initially when introducing an AAC system will help you and your student/client/child establish the communicative functions necessary in order to move to conversational discourse, according to Austin (2013). 

Let's tackle these categories not pertaining to requesting one by one and see how we could implement them in an AAC therapy session!

Comment on an action

Commenting can be quite fun to target in a therapy session! It's great to do with a literacy activity, a gross motor activity, and crafts!

Examples of commenting on an action include:

"He is running"

"I am swinging"

"You are eating."

Note that these are not requests. If your student/client/child were to say "me eat." as in "I want to eat now", this would be a request and not a comment! Note the difference.

Comment on an object

This could include attributes, such as "big," "little," "loud," "red." As in "The dog is big," and "the baby is loud." This is a great way to also introduce adjectives to a student/client/child's vocabulary! Take a book and start describing the pictures and images. Begin describing items in the room with the child, and model on their device what you see (e.g.,  "I see a yellow lamp!"). These are just two ideas of how you can implement commenting on objects in a therapy session- the possibilities are endless!

Answering a request for information

There are many words that could fulfill this communicative intent. For example, you could ask the student/client/child: "do you like the banana?" and they could respond "yes" or "no." They have, in fact, answered a request for information. 

Also, you could ask them, "do you want a the red blanket or the yellow blanket?" And they could respond with their preference. There are many questions you could ask that pertain to information, and starting with personal preferences can be a powerful way to start teaching this skill. 

Acknowledging that a previous gesture or utterance was received

Have you ever heard a little 2-year old kid tell you "ok!" after you told them a direction they needed to accomplish? It's one of the cutest responses! 

Although our clients may not be 2 years old, they also need to learn this communicative intent. There are a few words and ways they can acknowledge a previous gesture or utterance. They could say "yes," "alright," "I understand," "no thanks," "not me," and "I heard you." You could begin teaching this in a fun way. For example, you could start requesting ridiculous demands ("go vacuum the floor!") and then model "NOT ME!!" or "No Thank you!" Have the child say "no thanks!" in response to all of your ridiculous requests.

Another idea would be to start modeling "ok" when you're about to do a motivating activity. Tell your student/client/child "Now it's time to go to the ___" and help them say "ok" on their AAC device.

This is a more difficult communicative intent to teach due to the comprehension component- the student/client/child needs to understand the direction in order to respond appropriately. Until the comprehension is mastered, you can still model on the device and help them express what you believe would be their preference. 


This is an extremely powerful communicative intent to teach, and it should be early on that it is introduced. "Stop!" "No!" and "No Way!" Are just a few examples of a protest. These can be modeled during a challenging situation in which the student/client/child is upset and is protesting nonverbally (avoiding the activity/situation, crying, pushing/hitting). 

Additionally, it can be taught in a less emotional way. For example, you could offer ridiculous foods or activities, and prompt and model "no!" on the device. Or, you could play something you know the student/client/child does not prefer, and model "stop," on the device and move on to something else. 

Move beyond the "I want" funk!

As clinicians and parents, we can stay in the "I want" world way too long with AAC. AAC users need more communicative functions in order to eventually converse with us. Interestingly, these communicative intents could be applied to verbal children, or children who use signs and nonverbal communication. In short, this is LANGUAGE therapy. Language therapy is AAC therapy, as many (though not all) of our clients who use AAC have language disorders. The difference is we are introducing language with different modalities. 

I hope this article helped you think of some new goals and new communicative functions to address in therapy or at home!

Happy communicating!



Austin S. (2013) Communication Intention Inventory. In: Volkmar F.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer, New York, NY

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