AAC Tutoring

Picture of alternative augmentative communication board of symbols representing common words.

Alternative Augmentative Communication Tutoring

For students who have severe difficulties with speaking and communicating as a result of neurological and motor impairments such as cerebral palsy, the acquisition of literacy skills is crucial as these skills help individuals generate language, communicate competently, express feelings, ideas and thoughts and allow for a greater degree of independence. However, many of these students experience environmental, physical and instructional barriers to learning and the result of these barriers is a lifetime inability to read words.

What should literacy instruction look like for students who use AAC?

It is vitally important that students with complex communication needs have an alternative augmentative means of communicating (AAC) that works for them. It is also vitally important that these students receive comprehensive and specialist literacy instruction that:

  • Teaches appropriate skills known to improve literacy outcomes
  • Uses evidence-based, effective instructional techniques
  • Is adapted to support and accommodate the requirements of students who use AAC
  • Provides contexts and activities that build motivation for learning and positive rapport
  • Is differentiated to meet each learner’s needs
How do we teach literacy to AAC users?

Reading and phonics instruction should be introduced as soon as students have a secure means of expressive communication. At Forging Roots Education we design literacy programmes that are accessible for verbal or non-verbal children, children with complex needs, AAC users, high tech eye gaze or low tech communication system users. We can use AAC software such as Proloquo2go, Supercore, Word Power, Symbol Talker, Snap Core First. We also use Boardmaker, Widgit and Clicker. We use and can inform on online literacy programmes especially designed for children who use AAC such as A.L.L, Look to Read and Readtopia.

Our bespoke, comprehensive literacy programmes are informed by the work of Karen Erickson, David Koppenhaver and Jane Farrall, who are experts in the field of literacy for students with significant disabilities. Our programmes include:

  • Analytic and synthetic phonics
  • Working with words, letters and sounds including phonological awareness, word reading and spelling
  • Self-directed reading to build motivation and fluency
  • Shared reading with a focus on interaction and communication to build a love of books
  • Guided reading with a focus on decoding, comprehension, vocabulary and making links
  • Writing opportunities

We use multi-sensory teaching, visual anchors and memory cues such as Cued articulation. We may even allow students to feel the vibration of an adult’s throat when she is saying letters and words as this may help the brain register and learn sounds better.

We work closely with speech and language therapists and use their programs to inform our teaching. These partnerships have boosted children’s communication and language skills.


Browder, D., Gibbs, S., Ahlgrim-Delzell, L., Courtade, G. R., Mraz, M., & Flowers, C. (2009). Literacy for students with severe developmental disabilities: What should we teach and what should we hope to achieve? Remedial and Special Education, 30(5), 269–282.

Erickson, K. A., and Koppenhaver, D. A. (2020). Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Foley, B. E., & Wolter, J. (2010). Literacy intervention for transition-aged youth: What is and what could be. In D. McNaughton & D. Beukelman (eds.), Transition strategies for adolescents and young adults who use AAC. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., pp. 35–68.

Koppenhaver, D. A., & Yoder, D. E. (1992). Literacy issues on persons with severe speech and physical impairments. In: R. Gaylord-Ross (Ed.), Issues and research in special education. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press, (pp. 156 – 201).

Light, J. & Kelford Smith, A. (1993). The home literacy experiences of pre-schoolers who use augmentative communication systems and their non-disabled peers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 9, 10-25.

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