TIES TIPS Communicative Competence

TIP #25: Preparing the AAC User for the Next Grade

TIES Center, TIES Inclusive Practice Series TIPS.


It’s time to prepare for the next school year! Transitions can be challenging for all students, but for students who are non-speaking and who communicate using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), specific transition planning around their communication needs will ensure that the academic, social, and communication gains continue into the next grade.


While there is minimal research about grade-to-grade transition for students who use AAC, the PEAK Parent Center suggests effective transitions set a positive tone for respectful relationships among students, educators, and families (Springer, 2019). AAC users who are transitioning between grades will have smoother transitions if we consider the effective practices for supporting these users in an inclusive class prior to the transition. These practices, highlighted in the TIES Center's literature review, Communication Supports in the Inclusive Class, include team planning and training, peer supports, and aided language modeling (Kleinert et al., 2019). In addition, preparing the student who uses AAC and their family for the next year will yield positive and respectful relationships among the student’s educational team, as well as subsequent academic, social, and communication gains for the student.

Transition Strategies for the Team

Prepare a Communication Dictionary

First, consider preparing a Communication Dictionary to specifically document all of the forms of communication that the student uses. The dictionary includes not just formal use of an AAC device, but most importantly, any form or behavior the student uses to express wants, needs, etc., including gestures, facial expressions, body movements, etc. For English Learners, differentiation of language may also be helpful. A communication dictionary could also include video clip examples of those communication forms. The example of a communication dictionary includes the activity or routine in which the communication event typically occurs, what the team thinks the communication event means, how those around the student should respond, and, AAC options to make the communication more easily understood by peers and adults. Using a Communication Dictionary helps the new team recognize and respond appropriately to communication when they see it. This ensures that communication progress can continue and documents communication and AAC strategies that work best for the student. An electronic communication dictionary can be maintained over a number of years in an easily-accessed format.


When s/he/they does this...

We think it means this...

We should do this...

Possible AAC Options

Enters the Classroom

Smile with vocalization


Return the greeting

  • Understood gesture, facial expression, and body language
  • Simple voice output device with single message in English and Spanish
  • Speech generating device with word/symbols/typing English/Spanish

Offered a choice

Turned head away

No thanks

Acknowledge the refusal and repeat with another option

  • Partner assisted scanning

Team Work by Rojal is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Meet with the New Team

Prepare to discuss the student’s current progress in academics, social skill development, communication skills, and AAC use. Be sure to invite all of the related service providers, paraprofessionals, and parents to the team meeting to ensure accurate communication. Parent and student participation is essential for successful transitions.

Share the Communication Dictionary and information about all the AAC forms the individual student uses, including speech-generating devices. Providing pictures of the device or a sample of the word array and even videos of how the student communicates and uses their device documents the student’s strengths and helps to reduce fears that are caused by the unknown.

Finally, don’t forget to schedule the next meeting as ongoing team meetings ensure success.

A Boardmaker picture symbol depicting aided language modeling. The picture symbol shows one person talking to another. In the middle of the two people, there is a picture board and a finger is pointing to a picture symbol on the picture board.

Aided Language Image - Boardmaker

Provide Training in the Use of Aided Language Modeling

Aided language modeling, an evidence-based practice, helps the AAC User develop skills in using their AAC device to communicate efficiently and effectively. This strategy provides opportunities to build communication and language skills. When used consistently by the student’s peers, aided language modeling can also result in increased academic and social engagement for the student.

Identify Peer Supports/Friendships

Build on the relationships the student has developed in the past year by making sure that next year’s class has at least one or two peers from the current class. Peers with knowledge about how to support the student and who are comfortable in providing that support will be essential for making new friends in next year’s class.

Provide the new team members with instruction on how to use the student’s Speech-Generating Device (SGD), such as how to turn it on/off, how to charge the battery, how to add words or topics, and how to model the use of the device with aided language modeling. If there are short YouTube videos about how to use the student’s specific device, share those links as well. They will be good reminders for when the next school year starts.

Transition Strategies for the Student & Family

Example of a one-page profile titled "All About Me". On the top left, there is an oval labeled insert picture. Below, there are 5 speech bubble icons. The first one says Family, Friends, Favorites. The second says How I Communicate. The third says I Don't Like. The fourth says I'm Working On. The fifth says Things that Work Best for Me.

Prepare a Student Profile

A student profile includes important introductory information about the AAC user in terms of their vision for themselves, how they communicate with family, friends, and favorites, preferences, learning goals, things that don’t work, and things that work best. The template on the right illustrates these topics and could be used as an example of the topics needed for creating a student profile regardless of age. The student, their family, and even peers could help develop this one-page profile or an “All About Me” booklet. It could even be a class activity that all the students do to start the school year and the next grade. Students might also like to develop a video version of their Profile or All About Me.

Schedule a Meeting

Before the start of the new school year, schedule a meeting with the new teachers and visit the new classroom. If available, prepare the student to share their Profile or All About Me booklet with the teachers and the entire team.

Create a Video of the Routine

It might be helpful to collect some videos early in the school year to create a video self-model of a couple of classroom routines, such as finding the classroom, filling out an agenda, storing their backpack, turning in homework, etc. A video self-model is a short video of the student engaging in the steps of the routine. For examples of video self-modeling, see Implementation and Effectiveness of Using Video Self-Modeling with Students with ASD .

Determine a Home/School Communication Method:

Many different types of home and school communication methods can be used to share important information that the student may not yet be able to communicate. A spiral notebook completed by the general and special education staff with a brief description of the day and any outstanding issues that need to be addressed or conveyed is a simple strategy. Alternatively, a Google document or electronic text may also be an efficient and effective method of regular communication.


TIPS Series: Tip #25, August 2022

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

  • Kearns, J. (2022). Preparing the AAC user for the next grade. (TIPS Series: TIP #25). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, TIES Center.

TIES Center is the national technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies. Its purpose is to create sustainable changes in kindergarten-grade 8 school and district educational systems so that students with significant cognitive disabilities can fully engage in the same instructional and non-instructional activities as their general education peers, while being instructed in a way that meets individual learning needs. TIES Center is led by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, and includes the following additional collaborating partners: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North Carolina – Charlotte, and University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

TIES Center is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326Y170004) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

The information in this publication is not an endorsement of any identified products. Products identified in this publication are shared solely as examples to help communicate information about ways to reach the desired goals for students.

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