FAQ About the Intervention

Who would benefit from this early intervention?

This early intervention is intended for young children with special needs, including:

  • Infants
  • Toddlers
  • Preschoolers

The intervention is designed for children with a range of special needs, including children with:

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Developmental delay
  • Multiple disabilities

The intervention is specifically designed for children who have complex communication needs, including:

  • Children who do not talk at all
  • Children who may be slow learning to talk
  • Children who may talk, but it is difficult to understand their speech
  • Children who are at risk for communication difficulties for a variety of reasons

These children may benefit from Augmentative and Alternative Communication, known as AAC


What is AAC?

AAC involves the use of many different means to enhance communication:

  • Vocalizations, word approximations, and spoken words
  • Gestures or signs
  • Communication boards with pictures or Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Computers, also known as assistive technology (AT) or speech generating devices (SGDs)


Here are video examples of young children using different means of communication:

  • Vocalizations, word approximations, and spoken words
    • In this video, Lili is using spoken words to play a zoo animals game with her mom and Janice.  


  • Gestures or signs
    • In this video, Lili uses signs to talk about her week.



  • Computers, also known as assistive technology or speech generating devices (SGDs)
    • In this video, Will, a child diagnosed with autism, uses an SGD to play a tickle game with his mom and dad.  



What are the benefits of AAC?

Research shows that AAC improves language and communication skills for children with complex communication needs.

AAC can provide children with the means to:

  • Ask for a favorite book or toy, or express other needs and wants
  • Play a tickle game, sing songs, or play other games to develop social relationships
  • Ask questions about a story, communicate about a pretend tea party, or share ideas, thoughts, and feelings
  • Learn colors, shapes, letter sounds, numbers or other preschool concepts


Will AAC keep my child from learning to talk?

Sometimes parents and professionals worry that using AAC will keep their child from learning to talk.

Research demonstrates that using AAC does NOT stop children from learning to talk.

  • In fact, the overwhelming majority of participants demonstrate gains in speech after AAC is introduced.
  • AAC helps children build success communicating.
  • For more information about the research on the impact of AAC on speech development, see:
    • Millar, D., Light, J., & Schlosser, R. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: A research review. Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, 49, 248-264.


When should intervention start?

Infants start the process of learning language and communication skills at birth.

Intervention with children with special needs should start as early as possible.

  • In our project, we have introduced AAC successfully to infants with special needs as young as 6-9 months of age.
  • Visit the success stories page for an example of AAC intervention with an infant.

When intervention starts early:

  • Children with special needs have many more opportunities to learn language and communication skills.
  • They are more likely to experience success.
  • They are less likely to become frustrated and rely on challenging behaviors.
  • They are more likely to be engaged socially.

Early intervention enhances:

  • Learning
  • Language development
  • Concept development
  • Functional communication
  • Social interaction


What if my child is older?

It is never too late to start intervention.

  • Older individuals who are at the beginning stages of learning communication skills may also benefit from this intervention.


It is never too late to start intervention.

 Older communicators:  JF and Kathy use AAC to share a conversation.

 Copy or use of this photo outside of this website is prohibited.

 When working with older individuals who are beginning communicators, remember to adapt activities so that they are appropriate to the individual's age and interests:

  • For example, instead of reading the children’s book, Brown Bear Brown Bear, use cooking magazines or sports magazines with interesting photos. 
  • Instead of singing the "Wheels on the Bus," use a song from the "High School Musical" series, or even "YMCA."
  • Instead of playing peek a boo or bye-bye games, use a high five routine. 


An older individual might enjoy cheering at the Penn State football game.

Example of a computer screen for a football game  

Copy or use of this photo outside of this website is prohibited.




What are the prerequisites for this intervention?

There are no prerequisites for this intervention.

  • It is designed to help children at the earliest stages of communication.
    • It has be used successfully with infants as young as 6 months old.

If your child has significant motor, visual, and/or hearing impairments, modifications may be required to support his/her participation.

  • For example, if your child has a motor impairment, be sure to work with a qualified and knowledgeable professional team to:
    • Ensure appropriate seating and positioning
    • Maximize his or her access to communication and to play materials
  • If your child has a visual impairment, be sure to work with qualified and knowledgeable professionals to:
    • Ensure appropriate assessment of his or her visual skills
    • Provide appropriate accommodations to maximize performance
      • For example, use larger pictures or text, position materials within his or her line of sight, use colors or light to focus attention and maximize processing
  • If your child has a hearing impairment, be sure to work with a qualified and knowledgeable audiologist to:
    • Ensure appropriate assessment of his or her hearing
    • Provide appropriate accommodations to maximize performance
      • For example, he or she may make recommendations regarding how to use appropriate amplification, or to pair visual cues and references with what is spoken. 


What are the goals of the intervention?

The overall goal of the intervention is to support young children with special needs in learning to communicate successfully with others in social interactions.

Specifically, the intervention helps young children:

  • Increase their active participation in social interactions
    • Increase their turn taking skills
  • Learn to communicate for a wide range of reasons
    • Communicate not just to express needs and wants but also to interact socially and share their experiences
  • Learn a wide range of new concepts
    • Acquire a broad vocabulary
  • Learn to combine concepts to communicate more complex messages
  • Build the foundations for later literacy development
    • Develop the foundations for learning to read and write/type


What are the steps in the intervention?

The intervention involves 5 steps:

   1.  Identify meaningful contexts for communication.

   2.  Provide effective means to communicate.

   3.  Select appropriate vocabulary.

   4.  Set up the environment to support communication.

   5.  Use appropriate interaction strategies to support communication.

Click on the links above to visit web pages for further information on each of these steps, including:

  • The procedures for each step
  • Photograph and video examples illustrating:
    • Young children with complex communication needs
    • Actively involved families incorporating the intervention into familiar activities
    • Intervention occurring in the homes


Who should be involved in intervention?

Many different people can help with this intervention, including:

  • Parents
  • Older siblings
  • Other family members
  • Speech language pathologists
  • Teachers
  • Other early intervention professionals

The success of any intervention is best seen when the key partners are actively committed to supporting opportunities for the child to communicate.

Here is a video example of parents and siblings supporting early intervention.

In this footage, Kara is 8 months old.  She has Down syndrome.

  • She loves animals and she loves to look at books with her mom and her brother.
  • We started intervention with Kara when she was very young so that she would have the opportunity to learn new concepts and develop her language skills from an early age.
    • We worked with her family to teach Kara sign language and to introduce her to a computer to support her language and communication.
  • In this video, Kara is learning to use the computer to participate in the book reading activity with the book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear.
    • She is learning to touch the animal on the computer screen so that the computer says the animal's name and then produces a related sound effect.
    • Kara's mom and her older brother are learning the signs for the animals and colors in the book.
      • They are showing Kara the appropriate signs as they read the book.
      • They are helping Kara to learn new language concepts.



How much time does intervention require?

It is not necessary to set aside extended time to work with your child in a structured setting.

Intervention works best when it is implemented on an ongoing basis in the course of daily activities.

These strategies can be implemented during any daily activity including:

  • Play activities
  • Book reading
  • Singing songs
  • Mealtimes
  • Any activity which promotes or supports interactions between people


How does this intervention differ from traditional early interventions?

The intervention described here differs in several ways from traditional early intervention programs for children with special needs. 

  • This intervention introduces children to AAC at a young age to enhance language and communication.
    • The intervention uses AAC systems that are designed to be fun and easy for young children to learn.
  • This intervention focuses on social interactions that are motivating for the children.
    • The intervention does not focus solely on expressing needs and wants.
  • This intervention is appropriate for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
    • The intervention does not require that children attain specific prerequisites prior to their involvement.
  • This intervention encourages children to learn language through AAC.
    • The intervention does not require children to demonstrate that they “know” and understand a word before it is introduced and available for them to use; rather, AAC is used to expose children to new words and concepts.
    • New words and concepts are introduced to the children on a regular basis using speech, signs, communication boards, and /or computers (known as speech generating devices, SGDs).
      • The children learn new language concepts through AAC.


Is there evidence of the effectiveness of this intervention?

This intervention was developed and evaluated by Dr. Janice Light and Dr. Kathy Drager through a research grant (#H133E030018) funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) as part of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (The AAC-RERC).

Results of the study demonstrated that the intervention was highly effective.

  • All of the children made significant gains in their language and communication skills as a result of the intervention.
    • They learned to participate actively in social interactions.
    • They learned lots of new words and concepts.
    • They learned to combine these words to communicate more complex ideas.
  • As the children reached the preschool years, they already knew many preschool concepts such as numbers, colors, letter sounds, and phonological awareness skills.
  • Click here for further information on the research conducted with this intervention.
  • Click here to view videos of the children’s success stories. 


Last Updated: February 9, 2019