Adult communication partners modeling AAC

This article is a systematic review examining the effect of communication partners modeling AAC on young AAC users’ language. For the purpose of this review, the authors specify that, “AAC modeling-based interventions all contain two key features, including communication partners (a) modeling aided AAC as they speak and (b) engaging in the context of a naturalistic communication interaction.” This interaction may be an adult sitting next to the child, playing, with the AAC device in front of and facing the child. When the adult has something to say to the child, she may point to the words on the child’s AAC device as she verbally speaks them. Without taking the device from the child or using the child’s voice, the adult is able to model language via AAC, which hopefully supports the child's acquisition of AAC. Note that this isn’t the instructor indicating an instructional target word or phrase that she’s wanting the child to immediately use, but instead using the device to model her own communicative acts in a natural interaction.
The authors discuss various positive results for pragmatic, semantic, syntactic, and morphologic skills in detail, which together make “a strong argument for using AAC modeling as a foundation of AAC intervention.” For example, following AAC modeling, many of the children across studies demonstrated an increase in communicative turns and multi-symbol utterances.
As with any study, it’s important to understand the limitations before applying a conclusion unequivocally across your caseload. Within this review, study participants were aged 6–12, with most of them under 6 years old. Few had complex motor needs or advanced language skills. The studies also lack of data on non-responders—meaning, if there is a group of children that this technique doesn’t work well for, they’re not represented in the data and therefore we can’t predict who they may be.
Note that that AAC modeling isn’t something to be done in the therapy room only, but instead should be used throughout the child’s day, with a variety of partners. Unlike oral communicators, children who use AAC don’t often see their communication modality modeled for them. The authors note, “Even the largest dosage of AAC modeling reported pales in comparison with the (speech) input that speaking children hear.”

Sennott, S.C., Light, J.C., McNaughton, D., (2016). AAC Modeling Intervention Research Review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41(2), 101–115.