Building Blocks to Autonomous Communication

Building Blocks to Autonomous Communication is designed for educators who support learners with complex communication needs including:

  • classroom teachers
  • paraprofessionals
  • ancillary staff
  • administrators

In preparation for training, partnership sites will complete a brief survey. Based on the results, sites will receive training and implementation support in some, most, or all of the building block areas. Alt+Shift will co-construct the training and implementation supports with the partnership site.

The Building Blocks

Each building block is designed to focus on a targeted set of knowledge and skills. This knowledge and set of skills will enable educators to provide effective instruction to individuals with complex communication needs.

Understanding the Fundamentals of AAC

Goal: In this block, participants will learn about the fundamentals of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) that lead to individuals becoming autonomous communicators.


Participants will:

  • Describe autonomous communication
  • Debunk common AAC myths
  • Explain who would benefit, what AAC is, and why it is beneficial for learners

Considering Assistive Technology (including AAC) for Your Learner

Goal: In this block, participants will learn the components of a multidisciplinary team approach to the Assistive Technology [AT (including AAC)] assessment process.


Participants will:

  • Identify the components of the an AT and/or AAC assessment process (including consideration, selection, and implementation)
  • Explain the benefits of utilizing a team based approach
  • Determine the next actionable steps for improving their AT assessment process

Building your Communication Partner Toolbox

Goal: In this block, participants will learn strategies to support AAC users as they become more competent communicators.


Participants will:

  • Describe effective practices of communication partners
  • Create a plan to improve all environments for communication

Exploring Low to High Tech Communication Tools

Goal: In this block, participants will learn about the importance of demonstrating language through low to high tech communicative means.


Participants will:

  • Explain the differences and importance of low to high tech AAC systems
  • Describe the difference between core and fringe vocabulary
  • Explain the components of AARCH (a framework for thinking about and implementing AAC including Autonomy, Accessibility, Requirements, Competence, and Habits)
  • Practice using low tech AAC supports (ex: core boards, PODD communication books, etc)

Supporting AAC Users with Alternative Access

Goal: In this block, participants will learn how to support AAC users with complex physical bodies as they develop language skills through alternative access (i.e., using a method other than pointing to select words, such as eye gaze, partner assisted scanning, or using a switch).


Participants will:

  • Describe the differences between direct select, eye gaze, and partner assisted scanning (visual, auditory, and visual+auditory)
  • Identify characteristics of individuals who may benefit from access to alternative means of communication
  • Explain ten (10) key movement issues that underlie all functional movement

Developing Literate AAC Users

Goal: In this block, participants will receive an overview of strategies that support daily, comprehensive literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities.


Participants will:

  • Identify the behaviors and understandings of emergent versus conventional literacy learners
  • Describe the instructional strategies of emergent versus conventional literacy approaches
  • Reflect upon the conditions for learning in their classroom environments

Communicating Outside of the Classroom

Goal: In this block, participants will gain strategies and skills for supporting AAC users beyond the classroom into their home and community environments.


Participants will:

  • Explain the importance of educating all community members on how to support AAC users
  • Describe strategies for partnering with families to support communication within the home and community environments

Evidence Base

Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Services: A Guide for School Administrators by Gayl Bowser and Penny R. Reed

This book examines successful school leadership in the context of assistive technology. It may help administrators influence the provision of AT devices and services.

Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) for Consideration

The QIAT examine components that are important to the development and delivery of AT services. They include insights and observations from more than 4000 AT providers from 17 countries and across the United States.


This website includes research that supports the use of core vocabulary. Training modules and universal core vocabulary boards are also available.

PODD Communication Books: A Promising Practice with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2009)

This article explains the key features of PODD. It also explains how PODD can be a beneficial tool for individuals with Autism.

AAC Modeling Intervention Research Review (2016)

This article reviews ten studies that examine the impact of aided language input or modeling. The article explains the pragmatic, semantic, syntactic, and morphological outcomes of each study.

Effects of Interventions That Include Aided Augmentative and Alternative Communication Input on the Communication of Individuals With Complex Communication Needs: A Meta-Analysis (2018)

This article reviews 26 studies involving aided language input. It explains the importance of modeling language to enhance the communication skills of AAC users.

Comprehensive Literacy Instruction, Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, and Students With Severe Disabilities

This article describes comprehensive literacy instruction for students with severe disabilities. It focuses on a collaborative and interactive approach to instruction.

How to Receive This Training

You can choose to partner with Alt+Shift or attend a scheduled Statewide Event. Read more about each option below. If you’d like to be notified when the next statewide event becomes available, you can request to be notified.

Partner with Alt+Shift

Training is provided to ISD staff as part of an ISD partnership. Training is typically provided to the entire district, building, or program staff. This depends on the specific ISD's implementation plan. Training is one piece of the partnership. Strategic planning, implementation support, and capacity building are also addressed through the partnership.

Attend a Statewide Event

Statewide events are opportunities to receive training, but with limited opportunities for follow up support. Participants can expect to gain ideas and strategies that would be usable immediately in their practice, and to gain a better understanding of the nature of the training as part of an exploration process for sites considering a partnership with Alt+Shift.

There are no upcoming events for this training.

What Others are Saying

Nathan Johnson
MoCI Teacher
Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle ESD

Personally, I have gained a mindset shift during our training and through the process of putting PODD systems in place with our students. Implementation is an imperfect process, for sure, but what's the alternative? Not having a voice? Switching up systems and starting over from scratch? Language is so essential to every part of our daily lives, and I do not take for granted the ability to be a small part in helping our students find their voices.

Sarah Hanson
Former Speech Language Pathologist
Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD

Being an Implementation Site has not only helped us by supporting us through the technical aspects of implementation, but also through the more difficult aspects of adaptive coaching skills by leaning on the research of implementation science (such as the Knoster model). By looking at what we already know about making sustainable, lasting change, we have been able to support our teachers, parents and students when barriers arise. Coaching each other regionally, receiving coaching as a group with Alt+Shift's guidance, and working with other teams in the state at the summer retreat has helped to craft mission statements, vision statements and goals for our organization.

Lori (Seagraves) Hill
Former Speech Language Pathologist
Clinton County RESA

The AT Journey has been well thought out and provided to our district in manageable pieces. It's one of the most productive professional development opportunities that I've ever participated in.

Lisa Anderson
Special Education Supervisor
Dickinson-Iron ISD

Behavior is communication, and we are always looking for better ways to support the behavioral needs of our students. The best place for us to start was to look at our communication with students. We were then able to look at the ways our students communicate with us. Implementation of core vocabulary has improved our ability to communicate with students and their ability to communicate with us. We have even seen students using the core vocabulary to communicate with each other. We are all in this together, and the success comes from us all doing the same thing. We have trained teachers, therapists, outside agencies, parents, paraprofessionals, transportation personnel, and kitchen staff.

Lacy Lauzon
Principal / Program Supervisor
Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (ISD)