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

Core vocabulary: an overview

Toddle core words from Banajee list

When I first started working with children with complex communication needs I had never heard that term "Complex Communication Needs". I am pretty sure it was already starting to be used in Australia by then, but it certainly hadn't arrived to my small town in Oregon at the time.

Nor did I know anything about core vocabulary, which is amazing because it is a pretty simple and powerful idea.

Basically a relatively small number of words (less than 300-500 depending on the researcher) accounts for over 70% (or more depending on the data collected) of what we say.   Bruce Baker used this basic linguist principle as the basis of his Minspeak language system that is used on Prentke Romich Company's devices (PRC).  He has written up nice summary of core vocabulary with some frequency lists from different researchers here.

For the linguistically geeky, there are many linguists with no interest in AAC who also have collected extensive sets of spoken and written language and counted the relative frequency.  Leech, Leyson, and Wilson did one such effort in 2001 and have shared their word frequency lists here.   They, and others, have shown that we use different words more frequently for spoken versus written language.  Further, when we are speaking conversationally different words are used more frequently than during task based communication.

Here are some of the most frequently core words in spoken English from one of Leech et al's 2001 lists of adult British English:

good, other, right, little, new, nice, big, old, different, sure, sorry, alright, long, great, able, better, local, bad, important, wrong, whole, bloody, only

eah, oh, no, yes, mm, mhm, ah, ooh, aye, aha, hello, ha, eh, dear, bye, yep, hey

of, in, to, for, on, with, at, about, from, like, by, into, as, through, over, after, off, between, against, within, round, under, without, before, across, down, past, during, up, around, regarding

I, you, it, we, they, he, she, them, one, me, who, him, something, us, her, anything, somebody, nothing, everything, everybody, anybody, yourself, someone, mine, myself, nobody, lots, themselves, everyone, anyone, ya, itself, yours, himself, none, ourselves, ours, 'em, plenty, nil, nought, herself, his,  whoever, whom, hers, yourselves, theirs

's, is, do, was, have, be, know, got, 've, are, 're, think, get, did, go, had, were, said, 'm, see, mean, going, say, been, want, come, put, has, does,  take, look, like, make, doing, done, went, give, thought, need, says, tell, being, thank, saying, 'd, getting, made, find, coming, remember, goes, came, use, having, keep, talking, looking, gone, work, let's, ask, try, let, seen, start, feel, told, comes, wanted, trying, pay, called, call, leave, took, working, left, suppose, talk, am, buy, started, read

Modal verbs:
can, would, 'll, could, will, can't, 'd, should, might, used, must, won't, may, shall, ought, need, dare

Core vocabulary in my early days:

And so it begins... welcome to "Looking Up, Tuning In: A Blog about AAC"

For many years I have wanted a place to share my thinking about AAC, child language development, autism, and what it is like to work in this field.  Long before it became a career, helping people communicate better (including myself) was my passion.  I love watching people truly connect and am amazed at how children become more and more adept at language and communication over time.

For me, I want this blog to have a simple overarching theme:

that everything we hope to do as parents, therapists, teachers, and human beings comes down to taking a breath and looking up from our goals, worries, check lists, technology, and to do lists and really truly tune in to each other. The best therapy and teaching I have ever seen always happens when people are attuned to each other.

It is in these moments that I have experienced another magical thing:  That moment when a person looks up and wordlessly expresses, “Yes, YES!!! you are getting me.”