Throwback (2001): Choosing words for preschoolers who use AAC

A preschooler on your caseload just received a new AAC device. You’re excited, motivated, and eager to get started! You know that the child will only benefit if appropriate vocabulary is available, but you have no idea where to begin. If only there was one comprehensive tool to assist with vocabulary selection for preschoolers who require AAC...


In this project, the authors describe two studies designed to address the challenges of vocabulary selection and develop an effective vocabulary selection tool for preschoolers who use AAC. First things first—why is this such a challenge? In order to be effective, vocabulary must be meaningful, motivating, functional, individualized, appropriate to child’s age, gender, background, personality, and environment, and must support a broad range of communicative functions. That’s A LOT to think about.

The authors first needed to know, “What do preschoolers talk about?” They found that, during normal activities, most typically developing preschoolers used a limited number of words most of the time (i.e., the 250 most frequently occurring words accounted for 89% of the total sample); however, they talked about a WIDE variety of topics, using both structure (e.g., conjunctions and prepositions) and content words (e.g., nouns and verbs). With this in mind, the authors emphasized the importance of including core AND fringe words in children’s systems.

The authors then developed and field-tested a vocabulary selection questionnaire with multiple informants (parents, teachers, SLPs, etc.). They found that all informants contributed unique vocabulary, but parents contributed more unique vocabulary than anyone else. There was also a lot of overlap among the informants’ responses, suggesting that a more efficient use of the questionnaire may be ONE questionnaire passed among the multiple informants.

The take-away? This questionnaire may be an effective and efficient vocabulary selection tool to use with preschoolers who use AAC. BUT, this is only the first step of a dynamic process. SLPs need to continually review whether the available vocabulary is meeting the child’s daily communication needs.

But what about older individuals who use AAC? You could use this questionnaire as a template and make modifications to meet the needs of those individuals—including age-appropriate categories and vocabulary.

Disclosure: Kelsey Mandak is affiliated with the institution where this research study was completed, as a doctoral student and as an advisee of the second author.


Fallon, K. A., Light, J. C., Paige, T. K., (2001). Enhancing vocabulary selection for preschoolers who require augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology, 10(1), 81–94. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2001/010)