The Center for AAC and Autism

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Language Connections

Words are the Building Blocks of Language

The majority of spoken language is composed of novel combinations of words. If a person had a transcript of everything he had said during the day, it would be unlikely that any phrase or sentence would be duplicated. In order for a non-verbal individual to be able to generate whatever he wants to say, their AAC system needs to be word-based rather than phrase-based because words can be combined in unlimited ways for expression, but phrases cannot. Words allow for independent expression while phrase based systems are typically dependent someone other than the speaker to predict communication needs.

The ability to “say” individual words on an AAC device may help the child with auditory processing problems to be able to discriminate each word and its meaning rather than understanding chunks of words as a whole. An autistic child may hear “I want computer” as a single utterance and only be able to use those words to get the computer. When individual words are taught and there is the ability to say each word individually, then the meaning of each word can be understood and then these words can used in different ways.

Frequently used Words are Emphasized

The most frequently occurring words in speech, core words, are emphasized and typically taught first. There are more opportunities during the day to use the word “more” than the word “cookie” and is therefore more powerful. The word would be taught across several activities so the meaning of the word can be refined. In spoken language, words can have multiple meanings. You can “turn it on,” “turn it off,” “turn around,” “make a U-turn,” and say, “my turn.” The manner in which “turn” is accessed should be the same in all these utterances. The ability to access individual words, allows the user to combine them to mean different things based on the words around them.

Language System

The language system chosen should adhere to the above mentioned principles: consistent motor plans that don’t change based on the activity or the individual’s language progression, access to individual words, and the ability to access a word one way to express all the meanings of that word.

The Unity Language System is typically utilized when implementing the LAMP approach as it contains features important in developing automaticity and language. Core and fringe words are accessed using consistent motor plans. Also, Unity uses multi-meaning icons which allows access to a large vocabulary with 1-3 keystrokes. Single meaning picture systems typically require so many pictures that the systems become a cognitive challenge for the user to navigate the pages or categories to find the picture. Navigation of pages and categories does not allow for the development of automaticity. A possible additional benefit of Unity is that the abstractness of the icons may enhance the user’s ability to use them to express the multiple meanings of words. For example, using a “concrete picture” of a boy running to say “running” may make it difficult for the autistic individual to use the same icon to say, “my nose is running” or “I don’t like running water.”