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Engaging AAC over the Holidays!

Holiday Guide to Building Vocabulary!

Holidays are a great way to build new vocabulary skills and reinforce usage of a child’s AAC device. Holiday vocabulary can help build on the child’s existing core vocabulary skills (basic needs and wants). A great way to start introducing new vocabulary is to focus on what they love! As the holiday season approaches, think about what the child enjoys listening to, eating, feeling, smelling and incorporate those holiday favorites into their AAC!  

Teaching New Vocabulary:

To help increase understanding of new vocabulary you can have the child “point” to the new vocabulary item presented (Eg. “Where is our Christmas tree?” etc.). This practice will help you know what the child understands and then you can begin having them label the new vocabulary items with their AAC! 

AAC and Family Events:

Another great way to reinforce usage of a child’s AAC system over the Holidays is to include their family to encourage carryover with new communication partners! A great way to do this is to have pictures of family members so they can practice learning their names and communicating with them (Saying “Hi”, “Bye”, telling likes/dislikes, etc.). They can also show their family and friends how they communicate with their personalized AAC system!

Have a child that uses an AAC device and want extended family and friends to understand more about how your child communicates? Here are some AAC basics you can share with them before the holiday begins.

What is AAC? 

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC uses a variety of techniques and tools, including picture communication boards, speech-generating devices (SGDs), tangible objects, manual signs, and gestures to help the individual express thoughts, wants, needs, feelings, and ideas (ASHA, 2018). The primary goal of AAC is to find the most effective way to communicate to increase a greater quality of life for an individual who may lack functional verbal communication. 

Types of AAC:

There are two different types of AAC that a child can use to facilitate low verbal output. The first type is unaided AAC. Unaided AAC includes gestures, body language, facial expressions, and sign language. The most common unaided AAC tool is sign language. 

The second type of AAC is aided. Aided AAC is utilizing a tool or device utilized for communication. Aided systems include pointing to pictures, picture exchange systems, switches, and speech generating devices.  

AAC & Verbal Communication:

AAC is augmentative when used to supplement existing speech, and alternative when used in place of speech that is absent or not functional (ASHA 2018). AAC is a great way to bridge the gap between a child’s ability to understand a variety of concepts (receptive language skills) verses their ability to verbally express them (expressive language skills). This can greatly  reduce frustrations for a child who has limited verbal output and has a difficult time being understood by others. Often once a child’s frustrations are decreased they can calmly focus on verbal speech in a less stressful way! 


Coastal Connection blog post contributor, Marissa Gratza MS, CCC-SLP

Marissa graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Communication Disorders. Marissa has gained experience in a variety of settings including acute care, school and clinical settings.

Due to a family member being diagnosed with a genetic disorder as well as, hearing and visually impaired, Marissa has a great passion for working with augmentative and alternative communication devices.

Marissa also holds a strong interest in developmental delays, literacy disorders, receptive and expressive language disorders, voice disorders and swallowing difficulties. Marissa completed her clinical fellowship year in both a behavioral and private clinic, working with children (4 years-18 years) presenting with language, speech, and feeding disorders.

Marissa strives to provide individualized treatment plans to increase success for her clients. When not at work, Marissa enjoys spending time with her family, running and going to the beach.


December 5th, 2018

Retrieved from: American Speech and Language Hearing Association (ASHA) https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/