Functional AAC Assessment And Intervention Strategies For Individuals With Severe Disabilities In Schools And Other Settings


0.25 ASHA CEUs


Course Type


This online course highlights functional AAC assessment and intervention strategies that have been found to be highly useful in fostering communication, educational, and related skills in individuals with severe disabilities, including those described as beginning communicators. Limitations of standardized testing and viable alternatives consistent with the principles of authentic assessment will be reviewed.  Emphasis will be placed on the use of integrated models of service delivery and ecologically valid, evidence-based procedures such as natural supports, embedded goals, discipline-free objectives, skill clusters, and discrepancy analysis.  Considerations guiding program content, including the setting of goals, will be explored. A simple, ecologically valid planning tool that pulls all this together will be illustrated. Overarching themes of the presentation will be participation, membership and inclusion. Offered for 0.25 ASHA CEUs – 2.5 contact hours.

Course Run Time: 2:41:55

Course Overview:

  • Functional AAC Assessment And Intervention Strategies
  1. AAC applications for individuals with severe disabilities
    • Augmentative
    • Alternative
  2. Working definition of severe disabilities
    • Special AAC and related considerations - unique features related to 3 modes of communication (vocal, gestural and graphic)
  3. Reasons for most effective methods of communication
  4. Issues related to problems of generalization
    • Isolated v. integrated services
    • Teaching methods
    • Least Dangerous Assumption (presumed competence) - Research documenting AAC skills exceeding expectations
  5. Bridging to assessment implications
    • Need for functional orientations
    • Useful models of AAC - Communication Needs Model & Participation Model
  6. More on Communication Needs Model and related assessment procedures
    • Ecological inventories
    • Discrepancy analysis and subsequent targets of intervention
    • Skill Clusters
  7. Using functional assessment procedures to drive intervention
    • Discipline Specific and Discipline Free goals
    • Integrated objectives
    • Natural supports
    • Self-determination
    • Goals illustrating the above concepts and principles
    • Criterion of Ultimate Functioning
  8. Framing functional assessment procedures relative to principles of authentic assessment
  9. Considerations/reservations related to use of standardized tests
    • Issues pertaining to validity and use in subsequent interventions
  10. Examples of alternative measures
    • Skill retention and regression
    • Feature matching
  11. Tie back to participation model of AAC
  12. Bridging to Intervention (Elaborating on previous content with additional suggestions) - Variables to consider when selecting targets of intervention
    • Opportunities to use and practice
    • Value to individuals and others
    • Acceptability (and corresponding research)
    • Factors related to AAC acceptance, rejection, and abandonment
    • Present and future needs
    • Role in fostering language acquisition
    • Ease of acquisition
    • Enhanced status
    • Functionality across settings
    • Required as an adult
  13. Principles and considerations in selecting and prioritizing communication goals
    • Dreams and nightmares
    • Person-centered planning
    • Range of communication needs
    • Ease of acquisition
    • Portability
    • Comprehensibility
    • Speed
    • Availability of supports
    • Places, places, places - tie to least restrictive environment
    • Friendship as an educational goal - circle of friends procedure
  14. Use of a matrix tool to foster integrated models of service delivery and measurement of functional outcomes
    • Integration of AAC into the matrix
  15. Need to shift to collaborative consultative models of service delivery
    • Strategies for managing time constraints
  16. Ultimate goal of AAC programs
  17. Documenting success outcomes
  18. Final take-away messages
The content of this online CE course does not focus exclusively on any specific proprietary product or service. Presenter financial and non-financial disclosures may be found in the Presenter & Disclosures area.

Course Format

Video PowerPoint presentation with author narration & downloadable handout.

Course Objectives

  1. List special considerations associated with conducting functional AAC assessments and subsequent interventions involving individuals of all ages with severe disabilities.
  2. List a variety of ecologically valid AAC assessment procedures that reflect principles of authentic assessment.
  3. Describe how to link AAC assessment procedures to curriculum planning, with an emphasis on functional skills that foster self-determination.
  4. Describe how to tie AAC intervention procedures to overarching themes of interaction, participation and inclusion.
  5. Describe how to use a matrix procedure to integrate communication and other related skills into the broader curriculum.

Presenter & Disclosures

Dr. Stephen Calculator, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of New Hampshire as well as a communication/educational consultant in private practice in Dover, NH.   Since earning his doctorate in Communicative Disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1980, Stephen has published and lectured extensively in the areas of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and inclusive services for individuals with severe disabilities, drawing upon his ongoing experiences as a consultant to numerous schools and other agencies in the USA and beyond. He has authored and edited four books and more than 50 other publication and has presented his work at well over 100 national and international conferences. His greatest contributions have been devoted to enhancing our understanding of the role communication and assistive technology can play in fostering the participation of individuals with severe disabilities in their communities.

Speaker Disclosures:

Financial — Stephen Calculator is a presenter of online CE courses offered by Northern Speech Services; receives royalty payments.

NonfinancialStephen Calculator has no relevant nonfinancial disclosures.

Intended Audience/Accreditation

This program is offered for 0.25 ASHA CEUs (Intermediate Level; Professional Area).

Intended Audience

  • SLP

ASHA CEUs: NSS online courses are registered with ASHA and are offered for ASHA CEUs. The number of ASHA CEUs is noted above. Note that 0.1 ASHA CEU = 1 contact hour = equals 1 CEE.

ASHA CE Registry: During the enrollment process, if you select to receive ASHA credit for this course and if you provide your ASHA number, NSS will automatically submit your CEU information to the ASHA CE Registry after successful course completion (80% on post test). This submission happens once per month, during the first week of the month. For example, if you complete your course on November 7th, NSS will submit all November online course CEUs to ASHA during the first week of December. When ASHA inputs the information into their database, they will mark the course as completed on the last day of the month in which it was completed, so November 30th using this example. The certificate of completion available for you to print immediately, however, will reflect the actual completion date, November 7th in this example. Due to ASHA processing procedures please allow 2-3 weeks, from the submission date, for the course to appear on your ASHA transcript.

ASHA CEUs: Attendees must meet at least one of the following conditions in order to be eligible to earn ASHA CEUs:

  • Current ASHA Member
  • ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) Holder
  • Licensed by a state or provincial regulatory agency to practice speech-language pathology (SLP) or audiology
  • Credentialed by a state regulatory agency to practice SLP or audiology
  • Credentialed by a national regulatory agency to practice SLP or audiology
  • Engaged in a Clinical Fellowship under the supervision of an individual with their ASHA CCC
  • Currently enrolled in a masters or doctoral program in SLP or audiology

If an attendee is not an ASHA member or CCC holder but meets any of the above criteria, they may inform the ASHA CE Registry of their eligibility by visiting this site.

Licensing Boards: Most state licensing boards DO accept CEUs earned online (usually classified as home-study credits). Some state boards do, however, place a limit to the number of credits that can be earned via home study/online courses. For the most current information, we suggest that you contact your licensing board or agency to verify acceptance policies and/or any credit limits related to home-study courses prior to registering for this course.

Additional accrediting agencies by which Northern Speech is an approved CE provider:

  • California: NSS is approved as a provider of continuing education by the California Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology Board. Provider #PDP4. Online CEU limits may apply; please contact SLPAHADB for current online CEU acceptance policies.
  • Iowa: NSS is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Iowa Board of Speech Pathology and Audiology Examiners. Provider #169.
  • Kansas: NSS is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Provider #LTS-S0005.
  • Florida: NSS is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Florida Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Board. Provider #SPA-026.
  • New Jersey: NSS is approved as a provider of continuing education by the New Jersey Department of Education. Provider #1654.

Frequently Asked Questions

Customer Support: Please phone 888.337.3866 or email

Course Completion Timeframe:

You have unlimited time to complete our online courses. You may log off and log on as often as you’d like to in order to complete all sections of a course.

However, completion dates are based on Eastern Standard Time. Therefore, if you need your CEUs by a certain date, be sure to complete the course test before 11:59pm EST on that date. For example, if you need CEUs before January 1st, you will need to complete the course test before 11:59pm EST on December 31st.

Content Access:

Access to course materials and content does not expire, even after completing the post test. You may continue to review course material by logging into your NSS account, clicking the My Online Courses tab, and then viewing your desired course.

Certificate of Completion:

On successful completion of the post test (80%), a certificate will be immediately available for download and/or printing. This certificate will include your name, date of completion (based on Eastern Time Zone, USA/Canada), and number of contact hours (CEUs / CEEs). Please note that CEUs are awarded on the date of successful test completion, not the date of course enrollment. Please ensure that you successfully complete the post test prior to any licensure renewal dates.

ASHA CE Registry Submission:

During the enrollment process, if you select to receive ASHA credit for this course and if you provide your ASHA number, NSS will automatically submit your CEU information to the ASHA CE Registry after successful course completion (80% on post test). This submission happens once per month, during the first week of the month. For example, if you complete your course on November 7th, NSS will submit all November online course CEUs to ASHA during the first week of December. When ASHA inputs the information into their database, they will mark the course as completed on the last day of the month in which it was completed, so November 30th using this example. The certificate of completion available for you to print immediately, however, will reflect the actual completion date, November 7th in this example. Due to ASHA processing procedures please allow 2-3 weeks, from the submission date, for the course to appear on your ASHA transcript.

Purchase Orders:

Purchase orders are currently not accepted for online orders, if you wish to submit a purchase order please do so at or fax to 888-696-9655.

What is an Online Course?

Our Online Courses consist of video, audio, and/or text content and are offered for ASHA CEUs. Unlike a webinar, which requires participants to be logged on and at a computer at specific times, our Online Courses are available to you at any time, from any device, via your online account. You may work at your own pace and start and stop your course as you wish. Your course will conclude with a short post test. On successful completion of the post test (>80%), a printable certificate of completion is presented to you.

Receiving CEUs:

Northern Speech is an ASHA CE Provider and our online courses are registered with ASHA and offered for ASHA CEUs. Please note that successful completion of the online post test is required prior to the awarding of CEUs. Please contact your state licensing board for acceptance policies related to CEUs earned online. Please note that courses offered for university students are not applicable for CEUs.

Registering for an online course:

You may browse all online courses by clicking the Continuing Education tab above, then Online Courses. Once you find a course, click Enroll Now, and you will be asked to either log into your existing Northern Speech account or create a new online account. Once you’ve entered your account information and provided your credit card payment, your course will be immediately available to you.

Accessing your purchased course or returning to a purchased course:

You will be able to access your online course by logging into your Northern Speech account and then clicking the My Online Courses tab on your profile screen. Click the course you would like to start or to resume. From there, proceed through the course sections until you are ready to complete the post test. You do not have to complete your course all at once. You may log on and off as you wish.

Testing requirements:

Each online course concludes with a post test consisting of multiple choice or true & false questions. Scores of 80% or greater are required for successful course completion and awarding of CEUs. You may revisit course materials and retest as needed to achieve a passing score.

Number of CEUs offered:

We offer courses from 1 to 21 contact hours. Each course will note the number of CEUs offered. Please note that 0.1 CEU = 1 contact hour = 1 CEE.

State licensing boards and online CEUs:

NSS is an ASHA CE Provider and most state licensing boards DO accept ASHA CEUs earned online (usually classified as home-study credits). Some boards do, however, place a limit to the number of CEUs that can be earned via home study/online courses. For the most current information, we suggest that you contact your licensing board or agency to verify acceptance policies and/or any CEU limits related to home-study courses prior to enrolling in an online course.

Course formats:

Our course formats include: text, audio, video, and PowerPoint with author narration. Each course will note the format on the course description page. Most courses include closed captioning.

Course handouts:

Most of our online courses provide a link to download the accompanying handout as a PDF file. 

Group discounts:

Groups of 3 or more are eligible for a 20% discount on each registration on most of our online courses. To receive this discount, registrations need to be processed together via the "Group Rates" tab on the Online Course of your choice.

Computer requirements:

For our online courses to function best, we recommend that you update your computer to include the newest version of your Internet browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Internet Explorer, etc.) and newest version of your computer's operating system. Also a high-speed Internet connection is recommended (cable or DSL). Speakers or headphones will be required for many of our courses as many contain audio components.

Course Cancellation Policy:

A purchased online course can be exchanged, refunded, or transferred to another individual if contact is made with NSS (via phone or email) within 30 days of purchase and the course materials have not been viewed or downloaded. 

Special Needs:

Please click here for any special needs requests, and we will do our best to accommodate them. 

Contact Us |


"I think overall - it was good for me to hear about some of the latest research and findings in AAC, but I would have like it better in something less "dry" than a lecture with slides."  L.T. (Oct. 2021)

"The validation of the collaborative model of service delivery was beneficial.  I liked the discussion of generalizing skills (not just communication skills) over several different experiences." A.I. (Aug. 2021)

"Learning about some new buzz words including least dangerous assumption, skill cluster, discipline free, self-determination and criterion of ultimate functioning. I appreciated some new research information as well to share with parents." J. P-B. (June 2021)

“This is a thoughtful presentation with real life examples.” – B.F. (Mar. 2021)

“The discussion on specific ways to collaborate with other team members to provide an integrated approach to services/goals was helpful.” – E.K. (Jan. 2021)

“I love that It specifically addresses use and assessment of AAC for students with severe/multiple disabilities in the school setting.” – M.U. (Dec. 2020)

“I really appreciated the "big picture" approach, in which life goals for the individual are the driving force behind his/her goals and objectives.” – I.D. (Nov. 2020)

“The slides included provided helpful information for me to look back on later when I have students using AAC.” – S.Z. (Oct. 2020)

“I agree high tech devices are functional for those with severe intellectual disabilities, and it is dangerous to assume that they must master low tech first; integration of skill targets throughout a student's day; friendship is a goal; dreams and nightmares. This course is extremely relevant to students that I work with, and the information is critical for student success. You could provide more examples of specific solutions. Overall, this course was excellent. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this course. Thank you to the speaker for sharing this invaluable information and sharing your insights.”  – L.W. (Oct. 2020)

“The author has dedicated many years to the research presented. He also provided relevant stories about observations he has made.”  L.D. (Sep. 2020)

“I have worked as a speech/language pathologist for the past 16 years, serving individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and Autism. I have experience with PECS, obtaining and maintaining low-tech to high-tech SGDs, and various total communication methods, including picture communication. I have also worked with a variety of functioning levels in the school setting, vocational settings, and residential settings. But sadly, I have yet to figure out how to successfully integrate SGDs and picture communication into the daily lives of the individuals that I have served. This course gave me some helpful insight into how I might help solve this problem.” – A.H. (Aug. 2020)

“I appreciate the idea of going beyond the wants and needs, while also placing importance on the parent's goals for the child. I find incorporating all disciplines in cooperative goal planning is essential.” – A.S. (Jul. 2020)

“Discussion of integrated goals with increased collaboration between disciplines, and the use of multiple communication modes at one time was helpful. It was an easy format to watch on-demand, I appreciate the ability to start/stop as needed with the inclusion of slides/handout.” – L.M. (Jun. 2020)

"Excellent course! It's too hard to pick just one beneficial discussion! Looking at HOW to assess in different ways, writing goals, and how to provide therapy/consultation - all beneficial discussions. The examples used were helpful - overall this course was excellent and very informative!" – K.T. (May 2020)

"All of it was beneficial! This course really opened my eyes to the number of considerations that one must take in order to select the most appropriate AAC device." – L.B. (Apr. 2020)

"I appreciated the focus on implementation of communication goals throughout the day with a practical method for collecting data across settings. I liked the comprehensive content and availability of printable materials." – A.R. (Mar. 2020)

"It was helpful to get examples of how to incorporate AAC throughout a student's day. Also how to view goals that can be targeted throughout the day. It was very comprehensive from assessment to treatment." – T.K. (Feb. 2020)

"Very positive and theoretical approach, but with many real-situation examples. However, I expected more specific detail regarding how to go about assessment of an appropriate AAC." – J.M. (Feb. 2020)

"It was helpful in thinking about developing objectives for children with severe impairments. The pace was great." – M.S. (Feb. 2020)

"The presenter was factual, clear, and applied information to real-life scenarios. I enjoyed the use of the integrated model and use of the matrix." – S.G. (Jan. 2020)

"I found the units of therapy being used for AAC assessment versus direct therapy helpful in how to be able to have time for the assessment process. The handouts are helpful and informational." – A.J. (Jan. 2020)

"The programs in which I previously worked were with many non verbal students. This course would be helpful to many SLPs. I liked the case study examples." – K.P. (Dec. 2019)

"The idea of looking for skill clusters relevant to specific activities that can foster more complete participation (thinking about multiple disciplines) was most beneficial. I liked the relevant real-life examples. However, I expected an overview of specific AAC device/modalities and suggestions for pairing a student with a particular mode of AAC." – G.F. (Dec. 2019)

"I liked that the course focuses on individuals CCN with severe disabilities which a lot of courses don't." – M.N.M. (Nov. 2019)

"I enjoyed the discussion about friendships and recommending a modified schedule where the student attends classes with other grade levels. I liked that the course was comprehensive and applicable across disciplines." – E.K. (Oct. 2019)

"I really like the concept of using natural supports within the student's day to target and improve goal performance. I enjoyed the examples that were provided. It was great!" – L.V. (Oct. 2019)

"The matrix procedure will help my daily practice with preschoolers. I will collaborate with other therapists to see how my student participates. This was an important topic that I needed more information about to be successful in my job." – K.R. (Sept. 2019) 

"I appreciated the discussion on creating discipline free goals with integrated objectives and the use of natural supports." – K.W. (Aug. 2019)

"One of the best courses I've taken on AAC." – C.K. (July 2019)

"The instructor was clear and gave examples of concepts. Going over the importance of asking parents about their dreams and nightmares and using natural environments and supports to improve communication." – A.L. (July 2019)

"The presenter did an excellent job walking through the information, having a handout with slides, and providing examples of specific ways to implement the models he discussed. The ways to provide authentic assessment along with a way to manage the time to work with implementing natural supports are both beneficial topics." – T.S. (June 2019)

"I appreciated the Integrative service model of delivery and the Presumed Competence Communication Needs Model. I liked that the presenter gave real-life examples. However, I expected the presenter to go more in-depth on the Enhanced Natural Gestures." – V.K. (May 2019)

"The matrix was a very relevant piece of information that could be included in my daily practice." – M.K. (May 2019)

"I liked the systematic way that the information was presented. Good use of examples. Good discussion of alternative service delivery model with research basis. The information was presented in a way that I can share it effectively with others. I believe I will change what I do based on the information learned from this course." – L.G. (May 2019)

"I enjoyed the ideas about collaboration and addressing AAC goals across environments." – O.W. (Apr. 2019)

"The matrix for taking data is something I will start implementing immediately. I have been looking for a way to do this more efficiently, and I'm excited to try it out. I appreciated all of the application to real situations within the course. The information and ideas were presented, and then I got to see how they are practically applied. This was very beneficial for me to retain what I learned." – M.S. (Feb. 2019)

"Lots of good examples of goals and corresponding objectives that emphasized participation and inclusive for students using AAC." – H.L. (Jan. 2019)

"I appreciated the discussion on how to introduce AAC to the teachers and aides that work with our students on a daily basis. I like that the course reinforced what I am already doing and gave research-based information that backs these models." – J.M. (Jan. 2019)

"The recommendation to consider the multi-disciplinary approach, as well as discipline free goals and programming,  were most beneficial. The course was well organized and interesting." – J.W. (Dec. 2018)

"Excellent course. It covered more topics than I originally anticipated. I especially enjoyed the discussion on the criteria for determining the appropriate device." – C.L. (Nov. 2018)

"I liked the ideas for how to include goals in daily activities. The ideas were practical and could be presented to IEP Team. More focus on elementary age students would also have been helpful." – K.N. (Sept. 2018)

"I chose this course as a "refresher" as I am planning to become involved with AAC service delivery in schools again, after a number of years of not having worked in the environment of schools. The content was an excellent review and built on what I had learned previously. All aspects of assessment and intervention discussion were helpful. In addition to theory, practical examples were provided." – J.H.W. (July 2018)

"The descriptions of ultimate functioning value were most beneficial. I liked the inclusion of many important tenets presented in a logical manner with real-world descriptions." – S.S. (Apr. 2018)

"As a preschool evaluation practitioner, the sections on assessment and goal-setting were most helpful. I also am so interested in using skill clusters as a framework for setting goals and making more specific objectives that involve multiple goal areas. The content of this course was excellent." – H.D. (Mar. 2018)

"I appreciated the discussion on working to incorporate device goals into more daily living activities to increase the functionality of therapy. This course had good basic information about AAC, although I was expecting suggestions for private practice settings to be included as well." – D.F. (Mar. 2018)

"The comprehensive and functional AAC evaluation process was the best part for me." – A.C. (Mar. 2018)

"It was very thorough on assessment as well as best practice with individuals utilizing AAC." – A.T. (Mar. 2018)

"I really liked the circle of friends concept. This is something that I can use for my students with Autism since I do not currently have any students with AAC devices. I liked the helpful handouts and useful IEP goals as well." – S.F. (Mar. 2018)

"I appreciated discussing ways to involve other professionals in the AAC process and ways to create generalization. I like that the presenter fully explained every aspect of the presentation." – H.K. (Mar. 2018)

"Going over the different service delivery model than the traditional model was most beneficial. I like how the course went through assessment and intervention." – E.R. (Mar. 2018)

"The content of this course is extremely relevant and important for SLPs, interdisciplinary professionals and families of individuals who use AAC." – J.B. (Dec. 2017)