It is estimated that there are nearly 165,000 students receiving special education services in the state of Massachusetts (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2012), with approximately 9,854 being essentially nonverbal, and in need of some form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC; Hall, 2013). Many of these individuals are supported in mainstream and inclusive educational settings. However, there are “many obstacles that can hinder a successful inclusion experience…[and] attitudinal barriers can be some of the most challenging and are often rooted in a general education teacher’s lack of confidence in his/her instructional skills when presented with students who have disabilities” (Kramlick, 2012, p. 106).

For students with complex communication needs requiring AAC, it is essential that he has access to his device throughout his school day. In addition it is critical that the student is encouraged to, and supported in his use of his device for a range of academically related, as well as social activities. Successful inclusion of an individual using AAC within a general education environment is contingent upon consistent collaboration among multiple team members (Kent-Walsh, 2003; Kramlich, 2012); and although it may be overwhelming to think of how to adapt the general education curriculum to support individuals using AAC, there are a number strategies that can be implemented.

a student uses his AAC device hooked up to a standard laptop
Figure 1: Third grade general education student uses his AAC device hooked up to a standard laptop to complete the MCAS

AAC implementation is a team effort. General education teachers should be supported by related service personnel from multiple disciplines depending on the nature of the student’s needs. Each team member’s goals (although specific to their specialty) should support and reinforce what is being done in class. For example, the AAC consultant can help ensure that necessary vocabulary is programmed into the AAC system, the student can locate the vocabulary, or knows how to use word prediction to type the relevant words. The speech pathologist can support learning new vocabulary, or embedding target vocabulary in complete sentences. The occupational therapist can work on writing or typing target words, or cutting out pictures of specific vocabulary. The physical therapist could work on having the student reach, range or ambulate to place pictures of target words in different locations, simultaneously supporting generalization of vocabulary learning while addressing gross motor goals.

a student using his AAC system
Figure 2: The same third grade student participates in a group reading activity in his general education classroom using his AAC system

In addition to this shared, collaborative teaming, there are simple strategies that can be used within the classroom. For starters, make sure all team members (including a student’s 1:1 support) are trained in the student’s device and that they receive regular consultation from an AAC specialist or other professional well versed in the student’s device. Offer a class training or discussion about the student’s device to help demystify it, and to show classmates that AAC is just another form of communication and how impressive it is that the student can use an AAC system as well as he does. Let the student using AAC lead a discussion, read a page of a book, or tell peers what is next on the schedule. Using AAC takes time so slow down the pace of a morning meeting or group activity to let the student comment on the weather, tell a joke, share an answer, label a color, or tell a friend it is her turn. Connect the student’s device to a computer so he can type letters, words, and phrases in a word processing document. Have the student use his device to do math problems or count. Most devices have phonics pages, so help the student explore different letter sounds, rhymes, or word endings. Most importantly, always have the AAC system available and use it with the student. The more the device is accepted and modeled as an effective communication tool, the more the student will use it. It is our attitude and willingness to involve AAC that will help ensure successful AAC implementation within general education environments.


Hall, N. (2013). An Investigation of the Efficacy of Direct and Indirect AAC Service Provision via Telepractice. Open Access Dissertations. Paper 743.

Kent-Walsh, J. E. & Light, J. (2003). General education teachers’ experiences with inclusion of students who use augmentative and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19(2), 104-124).

Kramlich, C. (2012).Perspectives from general education teachers, students and their parents: Including students with robust communication devices in general education classrooms. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 21, 105-114.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2012). Selected Populations (2011-12).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *