Looking up, Tuning in: A blog about AAC

Welcome to my blog! I hope you find my personal reflections on AAC and speech-language therapy interesting and I look forward to hearing from you.   Comments are welcomed but do keep them kind and truthful. I reserve the right to remove any comments that cross the line into mean-spirited, untruthful, or primarily about promoting a product or service.  Looking forward to seeing how the conversation grows - Shannon

Oh, and only the first sections of posts are shown. Click on "read more" after any post that catches your interest to see the entire post.

Considerations for psychologists and counsellors who are seeing people with ASD, language challenges, or use AAC

Gabrielle Hogg is an autistic advocate and AAC user based in New Zealand. She blogs and writes on her blog Autismo Girl, Facebook Page, and on Twitter.

A few years ago we developed a one page handout to help psychologists, counsellors, and other clinicians support autistic people and those who use AAC part or full time.


There are many standard practices that work well for neurotypical people that can be challenging for autistic people, people with language disorders, or those with other communication impairments. For example, many people I support find open ended questions incredibly stressful because they don't know what is expected of them, how much or little detail is being asked for, or where/how to start. 

Self Advocacy – communicating sexual history to medical professionals

I am a huge believer in nothing about us without us.   I want more stories of empowered people with communication impairments getting on with their every day realities – and being heard!  Privacy is paramount though and most of the stories that I am privy to cannot be shared publicly.

Recently an adult who uses AAC asked me to share a success story anonymously on her behalf.  This is her story not mine.

She was experiencing extreme pain and suspected a flare up of endometriosis.   She has had many previous experiences of not being listened to and suspected that she would find communicating with the emergency department to be challenging. 

She found some symbols that related to what was going on (you can check them out over at the Central MN Sexual Assault Center’s website - https://cmsac.org/communication-tools/ ) and

Making a case for expressive speech synthesis

To Whom It May Concern;

As an AAC clinician and researcher, I am writing this letter of support for ensuring that AAC systems  continue to move towards integrating speech synthesis technology that allows for expressive speech.

Specifically, there are two key technological advances that need to be integrated into current and future AAC systems:

1 – Custom / personalised voices – this is the capability of having a voice that is consistent with one’s expression of identity.   It is important to have a voice that matches one’s gender expression, regional and cultural identity, age, and body mass.  Having a unique voice also helps listeners attribute spoken contributions to the AAC speaker. 

Thinking about Language Disorders

From time to time I write letters to our local leaders highlighting areas of need/success and research with a hopes to inform the development of policies that benefit the populations I serve.  Here is an edited version of what I sent

To whom it concerns;

I would like to some key information that I professionally believe should be considered in any future educational policies.  I was inspired to write this letter after taking an online PLD course by Dr Vicki A Reed.  I'd like to give her due credit for her work summarising this information over the course of her career and her recent ASHA webinar.

Key points:

Select Committe

Last year I submitted a written submission to the Education Select Committee.  Too many of my clients are falling through the cracks and the Education Update is a timely opportunity for the policymakers to get things right.  We have a long way to go, but we also have some great things to build on. Today I had the chance to do an oral submission. I am much more accustomed helping others speak, so I was rather nervous doing the speaking myself.

Hopefully they heard my 3 main points:


Wisdom of students

Today I was invited to speak with a group of 80 high school students.

School hasn't even started, and yet there they all were.  They had volunteered to come in to school and learn about how to be a peer support. As part of their training, I was invited to speak for an hour about how to support fellow students with autism. I so remember being that age and signing up to be a peer tutor (as we called it in the USA) myself.  I remember wishing someone could have give us some practical advice and guidance.

At the end of the hour, I gave each table group a piece of paper and challenged them to list 5 things they could do to be supportive of a fellow student with autism. Wow!  They really synthesised the information.
5 ideas from high schoolers for supporting peers with ASD
Here is what they wrote:

Write things down / Live subtitles / Write down what you are saying /Write down instructions for  clarity

Video Explainers

So it has been a very busy year here.... and the blog has been left to languish more that I would  have liked.  

But I have been busy recording a series of informal videos describing various techniques I used on a regular basis.   If you want to check them out, they can be found over at my youtube channel.   I also will be posting them on my Inclusive Communication Facebook page as I finish the closed captioning for each one. 

Creating a Pixon™ Style Flip Book

When Gail Van Tatenhove came to New Zealand a few years back, I fell in love with the Pixon™ Project as another great tool to have in my tool kit. 

Before I go on, I want to first let you know where you can find out more:

  • Information about the Pixon™ Project can be found here
  • To purchase the project kit (symbols, board layouts, etc)

Oh and before I forget...  Pixons icons and Pixon Project Kit materials are the copyright of Semantic Compaction Systems, Inc. 

Okay, today I made up a custom Pixon™ book for a new client and I thought it might be a good time to document my method for constructing these books. 

New review of treatment options for Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Researchers at the University of Sydney recently published a nice review of various treatment approaches for Childhood Apraxia of Speech in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.   It isn't the easiest journal to get your hands on here in NZ, so I thought I'd type up my notes from reading the article and share them here.

The quote most relevant to me was:

"The current literature suggests that when a child experienced frustration over low intelligibility or comprehensibility, AAC approaches may increase communicative success as well as stimulate development of language skills that cannot be practiced through speaking." p 16

My personal take home message was that both motor and linguistic treatment approaches show positive outcomes.