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The AAC Needs Assessment Process

When Should a Team Consider an AAC Needs Assessment Process?

The AAC Needs Assessment takes place anytime that it appears that a student’s verbal communication alone is not meeting that student’s needs and no aided communication supports are in place. The AAC field long ago abandoned a “candidacy” model, meaning that individuals needed to demonstrate certain pre-requisite skills in order for a team to consider an AAC tool. 


The following are some “red flags” to look for when considering whether a student might benefit from this type of assessment: 

  • limited verbal speech

  • even with verbal speech, people have a hard time understanding them

  • student is struggling to participate in interactions and activities or has a hard time showing what they know or understand

  • student may be missing opportunities for social engagement and to build relationships with peers

  • student understands more than they can express, which may be evident on receptive and expressive language testing 

Steps or Phases in the Process

Before selecting an AAC strategy or tool for a student, it is important to take a few important steps. First, identify the needs and strengths of the student by doing a thorough consideration of their current communication needs and challenges. This will allow the team to be clear about what the goals are for exploring and then implementing any AAC interventions. Next, the team needs to collaboratively collect data and information about the skills of the student as they relate to selecting appropriate features in any aided tools. This allows the team to use an evidence-based feature-matching process that ensures the right match between the student and tools. In the final phase, the team meets to review outcomes of trials with tools that were identified through feature matching and, if appropriate, to begin a funding process. 


AAC feature matching refers to the process of determining what features are needed by an AAC user and then selecting tools that contain those critical features for trials. The first part of feature matching is to do a capability assessment. In a capability assessment, the communicator’s level of performance and required accommodations in the areas critical to AAC intervention are identified. These areas include motor-access, sensory-perceptual, cognitive-linguistic, and social-strategic skills. The resulting profile from the capability assessment can then be matched to operational, linguistic, and cognitive requirements of AAC options, or system features.  Features such as access, symbols, vocabulary, organization, flexibility, output, durability and portability should all be considered. This process of feature matching, based on the communicator’s profile, allows the choices to be narrowed down that are likely to be the most effective and efficient for students.


Communication (Means & Functions)

Motor & Access



Linguistic & Symbolic





grey arrow up with feature matching written on top

AAC System

Access Features





Auditory-Visual Feedback

Output (Spoke/Printed)



Man in wheelchair image
Tablet Image


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Adapted from: Glennen, S. L. Decoste, D. (2006). Handbook of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group.

The following visual provides an overview of what the AAC Needs Assessment process looks like for the AAC Implementers and AAC Specialists trained in the Open Access capacity building projects. For each step the Open Access team has specifically created scaffolds for data collection and templates for report writing that are available to participants in these trainings. As part of the certification process, participants are provided extensive opportunities for both guided and independent practice and receive individualized coaching to complete the AAC Needs Assessment process with fidelity.

AAC Needs Assessment Document Download

Contact us if you have any questions or are interested in bringing this training and these resources to your region!

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