Throwback (2015): What and how to teach AAC communication partners

We all know that communication is a two-way street—in order to be effective, there must be give-and-take, back-and-forth. Unfortunately, in the case of AAC users, the importance of the communication partner is often minimized. It makes some sense: using AAC is not intuitive, and there is a lot to teach, so we focus on the communicator. So, what’s the problem here? 

We’re neglecting the other half of the communication process!

Interacting with someone who is learning AAC is also not intuitive and often requires explicit instruction. So—what exactly should we teach partners?  And equally important, how should we do it?

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This meta-analysis aimed to answer these questions by investigating the effectiveness of communication partner instruction on the communication of individuals using AAC. The authors analyzed 17 studies and 53 participants, including a variety of communicators (i.e., different diagnoses and age groups), partners (caregivers, educational assistants, parents, peers, and teachers), intervention approaches (teaching one skill at a time versus a set of skills), and outcome measures (pragmatic, semantic, or syntactic skills). They found that, in general, partner instruction led to improvements in the communication of individuals using AAC.

These are promising results, but what can we take away? What should we be teaching our students’ communication partners? Across the studies, the most frequently targeted skills included:

  • Aided AAC modeling
  • Expectant delay
  • Open-ended questions

And then, how should we teach those skills? Frequently-used instructional activities included:

  • Providing a descriptive overview
  • Instructor modeling
  • Guided practice
  • Role plays

When these skills were taught using these instructional strategies, a range of communication partners were able to modify their interaction patterns to better support individuals using AAC.  Evidence like this can help us advocate for dedicated staff training time in our workplaces, like after-school sessions with paraprofessionals and teachers. Make it your mantra: partner training is a communication intervention!

If you’re interested in the specific variables analyzed across the studies, check out the coding manual here. For more on this topic, check out our 2016 review of three more studies of communication partner training.

 

Kent-Walsh, J., Murza, K.A., Malani, M.D., & Binger, C. (2015) Effects of communication partner instruction on the communication of individuals using AAC: A meta-analysis. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31  271-284. doi: 10.3109/07434618.2015.1052153.