SETTing Up Successful AAC Use To ensure that users of augmentative and alternative communication can participate fully in class, take stock of—and cater to—their unique needs. School Matters
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School Matters  |   July 01, 2015
SETTing Up Successful AAC Use
Author Notes
  • Lauren Kravetz Bonnet, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a clinician for Arlington (Virginia) Public Schools and owner of Freedom of Speech, LLC. She specializes in the areas of AAC, autism, behavior and early intervention. lauren.bonnet@apsva.us
    Lauren Kravetz Bonnet, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a clinician for Arlington (Virginia) Public Schools and owner of Freedom of Speech, LLC. She specializes in the areas of AAC, autism, behavior and early intervention. lauren.bonnet@apsva.us×
Article Information
Augmentative & Alternative Communication / School Matters
School Matters   |   July 01, 2015
SETTing Up Successful AAC Use
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, 34-36. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.20072015.34
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, 34-36. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.20072015.34
Students with limited or no speech who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) require repeated opportunities to practice their system of communication in school. But to successfully integrate these students into the classroom, interdisciplinary teams should first understand their needs in various settings.
To do this, teams can use the SETT framework (Student, Environment, Tasks and Tools), created by Joy Zabala, to provide an organizational structure for helping students who use AAC to participate more fully in their classes.
Before you start
To use SETT, start by considering its key components.
The student. First, determine a student’s strengths and challenges. Identify barriers that make performing certain skills or activities difficult or impossible for that student. Consider what a student needs to participate and whether this assignment/task can be modified accordingly. Teams should ask: “What are other students doing that this student needs to be able to do?”
Answering this question in general terms is fine. Being able to “talk” or “write” is an appropriate answer and can be expanded later in the tasks section. When discussing abilities, it’s important to keep in mind that no matter how great the needs, everyone has abilities that he or she can build on and enhance.
The environment. Next, consider environmental factors affecting the student’s AAC use in the classroom. The setting’s physical arrangement matters to a student’s AAC use as much as staff training does. Preferential seating or position, for example, improves access to a task or assignment.
If a student is using a picture exchange communication system (PECS) and must travel between the PECS book and the communication partner, then you have to think about the distance between communication partners. Also, if the student uses a dynamic display communication device, be sure to account for glare from windows or overhead lights that may affect screen visibility. Also consider where other classroom activities will take place, the exact location where the student participates, and the current AAC the student uses.

It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how great the needs, everyone has abilities that he or she can build on and enhance.

The task. Tasks are the activities that enable students to achieve academic goals and participate in social situations. Identify the activity you expect the student to do, such as “Communicate with one peer about a book the teacher read.” Then define what success will look like for this student.
For example, consider the hypothetical case of a preschool student who uses a static display speech-generating device. The device produces audible communication via a recorded or digitally generated voice based on words or phrases the student selects on a static or dynamic overlay. That student could be required to provide one fact about the story using available vocabulary. A high school student, on the other hand, may be required to discuss characters, setting, conflict, resolution and solution of the story in sequential order.
The tool. The final step in the SETT framework is where many people mistakenly start their planning. Speech-language pathologists and their team members should maintain a student-centered, task-oriented perspective when reflecting on the students’ needs. Discussing the features a specific student requires, rather than device brand names, will help everyone keep an open mind about what device to select.
When working in schools, SLPs are required to consider the least restrictive environment. If a student can use a tool that is no- or low-tech, then it’s not necessary to use a high-tech tool for the same work. Teams also should consider the cognitive load required for using the AAC device or tool, as well as training requirements for other students and staff.
Now integrate
Once everything is SETT, explore naturally occurring academic prospects for all students. Look at the daily schedule and select times that provide embedded opportunities for a student to develop and use skills. Here are some ways to integrate AAC in a busy classroom:
Morning meeting/news. This environment and activity provides many opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions, turn-taking, greetings, using classmates’ names and other social skills. You can easily script and predict exchanges. When integrating a new skill, this activity is a good place to start. Errorless teaching can be implemented in a naturally occurring manner. Morning meeting/news also provides an opportunity to discuss past, present and future events.
Jobs around school/classroom. By taking messages to people and places around the building, students can use their AAC devices with a preprogrammed message or create novel utterances. Being the “class manager” offers many different responsibilities: calling out the time, giving words for a spelling test, announcing transitions—“Pack up, it’s time to go to music”—and answering the classroom phone.
Cooking. During cooking activities, students with AAC devices and tools can select what recipe to cook. After choosing the recipe, the students work with their group to gather necessary ingredients and equipment, prepare a shopping list if needed, and discuss steps to make the dish. Giving directions during cooking encourages AAC users to be active communication partners. Taking pictures of the events provides an opportunity to sequence, retell and create an interactive recipe book afterward.

Once everything is SETT, explore naturally occurring academic prospects for all students. Look at the daily schedule and select times that provide embedded opportunities for a student to develop and use skills.

Snack/lunch. Using a communication placemat is a low-tech option for students to enhance their communication during eating time. At the table, students have multiple opportunities to ask for items out of reach, engage in peer-to-peer conversation and request “more.” Putting highly desired items in see-through containers encourages students to initiate interactions and request “help.” And there’s a clear beginning and end to this activity, making it a good context to teach “finished.”
Language arts. Programming repeating-line books and vocabulary into students’ AAC devices increases their ability to participate in group and individual reading activities. Telling and retelling stories by creating books (electronically or with paper/pencil) allows them to work on language goals. Asking and answering questions by “interviewing” book characters encourages initiation and novel utterances.
Visual supports. There are many opportunities to use visual supports throughout the school day. A few ideas:
  • Choice menus.

  • Adapted story and song boards.

  • Sentence strips to support curriculum vocabulary usage.

  • Visual schedules.

  • Task analysis.

  • Reinforcer/reward schedule (penny board, etc.).

Exploring naturally occurring academic and social interactions for students who use AAC is a critical part of an SLP’s work. The dynamic nature of communication makes it necessary for us to continually investigate new opportunities for students to stay engaged in the curriculum. To maintain communication in the classroom, we need to keep it motivating, interactive, meaningful and—most of all—fun!
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July 2015
Volume 20, Issue 7