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Glossary of Terms



AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) – Augmentative and Alternative Communication is the use of other means to communicate in support of, or as an alternative to, speech.

Augmentative and alternative communication is an area of clinical practice that attempts to compensate (either temporarily or permanently) for the impairment and disability patterns of individuals with severe expressive communication disorders. ASHA (1989), 31, 107-109

AAC Systems – An integrated group of components, including the symbols, aids, strategies, and techniques used by individuals to enhance communication.

AAC Devices – Specific tools (not too high tech) used to augment communication.

Access – Combination of personal and technological factors to support meaningful use of a tool.

Accommodations – Individuals with disabilities have the right to access general education curriculum and receive service or supports to do this. These supports and services help students perform to the best of their ability and allow them to demonstrate their knowledge.

Active Participation – A philosophy of supporting individual participation to the highest degree possible using AT devices, strategies and services.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) – The ADA is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against in the areas of: equal opportunity in employment; telecommunications; transportation; and places of public accommodation such as businesses and schools.

Adaptations – Adaptations are almost the same as modifications and depend on the individual and their learning needs. Adaptations are changes that are made in what the student may do or what materials they may use.

Aided Strategies – Any tool or strategy used that uses materials outside of the individual’s own body to support communication.

Alternate Keyboard – Any of a number of peripherals used to provide access to the functions of the standard keyboard.

Aspiration – When food, vomit, or some other material is brought into the lungs by breathing.

Assessment – The individual’s abilities are surveyed and identified in all areas. Assessments occur when there is worry of a developmental delay or when the individual needs to be reevaluated.

AT (Assistive or Adaptive Technology) – AT is any tool allowing individuals with disabilities to reach their goals and potential.

AT Device – Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability. (IDEA, 1997)

AT Service – Any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT device. (IDEA, 1997)

Auditory Scanning – When a device emits feedback such as a tone or word to indicate to the user which item is currently available.

Augmented Communicator – Person using modes other than voice as primary means of communication.

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CCN (Complex Communication Needs) – Term used to describe the condition of having difficulty with verbal language output.

Cognitive Clarity – Providing enough meaningful information to support understanding of expectations for a task.

Collaborative Consultation – When two or more people come up with new ideas to work with and teach a student with a disability.

Communication Board – A visual and static representation of language that may be used for communication in many situations.

Communicative Competence – Term adapted from Second Language Learner instruction to describe domains of communication skills for individuals using AAC. Professionally viewed as a continuum in 4 areas: linguistic, strategic, social and operational. Described by Janice Light in AAC Journal, 1989.

Communication Partner – The person with whom the aided communicator is conversing.

Confidentiality – Ensuring that information (about a student or other) is accessible only to those authorized to have access.

Core Vocabulary – The relatively small number of words used to convey most communicative messages.

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Digitized Speech – Recorded speech or environmental sounds.

Direct Instruction – Skills are practiced in a certain form after which students are given immediate feedback.

Direct Selection – Access method in which the person makes a selection by activating the desired choice without intermediate steps (i.e., pushing button, head pointing).


EADL (Electronic Aids for Daily Living) – see Environmental Control

E-tran (Eye Transfer System) – A means of providing an augmented communicator with access to choices using a board that has a hole cut in the center and communicative options on the edges. The augmented communicator looks at the desired option and then to the communication partner through the hole to confirm selection.

Encoding – Access method in which the person makes an initial selection which directs the communication partner to more specific information. Often used to provide more communicative messages within a smaller physical space.

Eye-gaze/Eye-pointing – Access method in which communicative intent is conveyed by the use of looking at objects in the environment after which the communication partner confirms message.

Environmental Control – Use of non-traditional tools for accessing elements of day-to-day life (i.e., adapted utensils, custom-made computer peripherals and specialized remotes for consumer electronics).

Expressive Language – Ability to put words (or equivalent) together to convey thoughts.

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FAF (Framing a Future) – Tool developed by the Bridge School to support student self-determination in the transition process.

FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) – All children, without regard to race, gender or disability, must be provided equal opportunities to education.

Fine Motor Skills – Activities involving small muscle groups (i.e., writing and eating).

Forms of Communication – “How” a person communicates ranging from pre-intentional to conventional means including: gestures; facial expressions; words; etc.

Fringe Vocabulary – Lower frequency, but high interest and specific words that provide context and interest to communication.

Functions of Communication – “Why” a person communicates including: refuse; obtain; social closeness; and gain & share information

Functional Education – Instruction that is given to an individual to develop life skills not typically addressed in the general education curriculum.

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General Education Curriculum – Standards for instruction that apply to all children in public education.

General Education Setting – This setting includes students without disabilities whose primary instruction is presented by a teacher who is endorsed in general education.

Generative – Producing novel utterances using word-by-word and/or letter-by-letter communication.

Gestures – Any unaided action that is performed with the intent to communicate.

Gross Motor Skills – Activities involving large muscle groups (i.e., walking).

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IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education (Improvement) Act (1997, 2004) – Grants access to free educational services to all children. While there are many elements to IDEA, the three fundamental tenets include: FAPE, LRE and IEP

IEP (Individualized Education Plan) – Produced annually to document a student’s strengths, needs, educational situation and goals

IEP Team – All people involved in determining a student’s educational programming including at least: parents, school administrator, special education representative, and general education representative.

Inclusion – Strategy for providing individuals with special needs access to generally available experiences.

Instructional Aide (educational assistant, para-educator, aide, paraprofessional) – An assistant to a student with disabilities ensuring the student’s health and safety, protecting their privacy, and supporting educational involvement and social interactions as required.

Interfacing – In AAC, the process of using an SGD to input keyboard and mouse information to a computer.

Intervention Strategies -

ITP (Individualized Transition Plan) – Name of education document prepared for students after the age of 18.

ISAAC – International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication

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LVS (Live Voice or Partner Assisted Scanning) – A “partner-assisted” strategy in which a communication partner presents choices verbally and the augmented communicator indicates selection using a predetermined method.

Linguistic Competence – Element of Communicative Competence associated with understanding of the language code of the AAC systems in use as well as the language spoken by family and community.

Language Representation – How vocabulary is presented to the augmented communicator (i.e., photographs, ASL, letters, drawings, etc).

LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) – IEP Teams must consider all potential educational placements for a student, making decisions based on the location that provides the Least Restrictive Learning Environment that meets identified needs.

Low Vision – Visual impairment that significantly impairs function and cannot be adequately corrected with medical, surgical, or therapy of corrective lenses.

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Mobility – Means of aided movement for individuals with physical disabilities.

Modifications – Any change made to expectations of student performance and/or content of materials used.

Mount/Mounting System – Means of providing access to AAC/AT tools when the device is not stationary or handheld.

Multi-Modal – Use of more than one communication strategy at a time to convey a complete message.

Multi-Sensory Learning – An instructional technique to facilitate learning that combines different senses at the same time.

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Operational Competence – Element of Communicative Competence associated with understanding of the functions specific to the AAC systems being used (e.g., producing unaided symbols (gestures, signs, pantomime) and operating aided systems with accuracy and efficiency (direct access, scanning)).


Peer Tutoring – Peer tutoring is an instructional practice in which students teach other students.

Person First Language – Conscious use of vocabulary to describe a person with a disability rather than define a person by disability (i.e., boy with cerebral palsy instead of cerebral palsied boy).

Phrase-Based – Vocabulary elements presented as pre-programmed phrases or sentences.

Positioning – Use of specialized equipment to support a person with physical disabilities and/or the placement of AAC/AT tools in relation to the individual.

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QOL (Quality of Life) – Term used to describe and/or quantify satisfaction with major life areas.


Receptive Language – Ability to attend to, process, and comprehend spoken language.

Regular Education Classroom – A general education class.

Related Services - Related Services are any services that are required or provided to a child with a disability as determined by the IEP.


Scanning – Access method in which elements are presented in groups or individually and selections are made to limit choices until the desired message is presented.

Seizure - A seizure is a sudden, uncontrollable, contraction of muscles involving small or large muscle groups.

Self-Advocacy – Communicating personal preferences and requirements effectively. Self-determination - Skills and knowledge to exercise free will to choose one’s own path or course of action.

Selective Inclusion – Strategic introduction of individual with special needs to activities with peers.

Sensory Integration – Area of study in the field of Occupational Therapy interested in the function and coordination of the sensory systems.

Sequential Messaging - A selection technique in which messages are recorded in a preset order and played back individually upon each activation of the device.

SGD (Speech Generating Device) - Electronic devices that produce spoken words and messages.

Sign Language – Standardized language representation using hand and body movements.

Social Competence - Element of Communicative Competence associated with use of communication to establish relationships. Subdivided into Socio-relational and Socio-linguistic areas.

Socio-relational – positive self-image; interest in others; active participation in conversation; responsiveness to partners; put partner at ease

Socio-linguistic - initiate, maintain, terminate; give and take turns; communicate a variety of functions; contingent responses

Social Networks – Assessment tool developed to instruct and inform practice related to use of AAC strategies with different communication partners.

Social Script – Strategy to support participation through routine and expected language.

Strategic Competence - Element of Communicative Competence associated with understanding of communication rules and regulations to support communication in a variety of contexts and with various partners.

Switch – A mechanical or electronic input device used to make a selection and/or control assistive devices and computers.

Synthesized Speech – Computer-generated speech.

Special Education – State and local agencies are mandated to ensure appropriate educational opportunities, individually designed, for students with disabilities at no cost to the parent.

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Transition – Educationally refers to any significant change in a student’s placement (i.e., preschool to kindergarten or one district to another).

Transition Services – Transition needs must be considered in a student’s IEP when they turn 14 or younger, if appropriate.


Unaided Strategies (for communication) – Any communicative message conveyed using voice or body language.

USSAAC – United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, chapter of ISAAC.

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VSD (Visual Scene Display) – Strategy for presenting vocabulary within the context of an environmental scene.

VOCA (Voice Output Communication Aids) – Electronic devices that produce spoken words and messages.





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