Immersive AAC Classroom

Last summer some colleagues from Bridgeway Academy and I, along with researchers from The Ohio State University, piloted what we called an “immersive AAC classroom” in which all of the students used speech-generating devices and aided input was provided on an interactive white board. We collected data on the students’ vocabulary and their frequency of device use before, during and after the study and presented our findings at ASHA.

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Bridgeway Academy’s summer camp has started this week and so has our second year of the immersive classroom. Six students in first-third grade who use LAMP Words for Life are joining us for two hours a day for intensive group language instruction with an emphasis on core vocabulary, social interaction and communication functions. The classroom intervention centers around fun, sensory and scientific activities and aided input on a SMART Board. Each of the eight weeks of the class will center around a science/discovery-based theme:

  • Week 1: Light
  • Week 2: Flight & Gravity
  • Week 3: Spin
  • Week 4: Colors
  • Week 5: Water
  • Week 6: Touch & Smell
  • Week 7: Taste
  • Week 8: Sticky

Each theme will have a collection of large group table activities, movement activities, foods exposure opportunities, fine motor activities, sensory activities, manipulatives and songs. The summer will focus on a set of core vocabulary words which are posted around the room:

  • up, down, on, off, stop, go, in, out, fast, slow, turn, I, you, my, big, little, look, more, put, get, like, don’t, wet, dry, yuk, yum, hot, feel, cold, smell, good, bad


We have a very fun summer planned followed by lots of data collecting and analyzing (for our grad students) to do. We hope that the natural, fun, novel environment will increase the vocabulary, communicative functions and frequency of use of our students’ devices. There aren’t many rules in “LAMP Class,” but one that my co-speechie, Sam Lyle and I are sticklers for is no prompting “I want” phrases. We want to see other communication functions emphasized but when requesting does happen, we plan to target other 1-3 word phrases based on the students’ current language levels.


Please check in this summer for pictures, therapy ideas and anecdotes from our immersive classroom!

9 thoughts on “Immersive AAC Classroom

  1. Why no “I want” phrases? Just wanted to see what you were doing instead. I have three on sgds in my class and there they aren’t used at home and I am having a hard time with them even using their devices without a fight. Thanks!


    1. When we look at natural language development children do not start combining two words until their vocabulary is around 75 words, so requests can be simple single words for quite a long time. “Up,” “stop,” “again,” “that,” “water” and “fast” are all perfectly acceptable as requests for beginning communicators (AAC users and verbal children alike). Once a child is at the 2-3 word level there are so many different ways to request: “come here,” “turn it up,” “make it big,” “do it again.” The phrase “I want” often becomes the focus of intervention before it would occur naturally and taught as a phrase can prevent children from learning “I” and “want” as separate words. There’s a great handout about natural language development and AAC here: (click “show contents” next to “Language Intervention Strategies” and then download “Natural Language Acquisition & AAC.”

      We also want to be sure that we are targeting more than just requests but modeling, teaching and prompting protesting, greeting and commenting.

      When a device isn’t used it is often because the child doesn’t see the value in it. Without knowing the structure of your classroom, I can’t make assumptions but I can say that it is difficult to have a child to communicate to learn before they’ve learned to communicate. I’d be more happy to chat with you further about implementation of AAC in your classroom.


  2. Very interested in your immersive classroom! Could you tell me your staff to student ratio? How many participants? How frequently does your class meet? How long are the sessions?


  3. This is incredible!! I just read through all of your blog and am anxiously awaiting more posts! Will you be sharing the results of your data as well? I’m really curious to see if there was improvement and what it looked like after your camp! Thank you so much for your inspiration!


  4. Love this so much. I love the structure as well as the times for spontaneity and creativity! Can you expand on what type of students you are working with? Are these cognitively average kiddos? Any have a diagnosis for anything? Any behaviors? I work in an ABA classroom as part of my job, but it is heavily reliant upon behavior, ergo the ABA part. Getting the staff to implement the usage of AAC devices has been difficult, laborious, and have not seen a lot of progress – if any. My kiddos are very cognitively low, using various devices such as PLQ, one Vantage Lite, and PECS, and have aggressive behaviors. All of them have poor imitation and very few reinforcers, yet they have these devices, which I have questioned a few times as well. Any tips on implementing for cognitively low kiddos with few reinforcers?


    1. Hi Mallory! Thanks for your interest in our class. Without disclosing too much about these students publicly, I can tell you that our students seem similar to yours. Our school is ABA-based and we all realize that language and behavior are so connected, so we do have a lot of children using devices regardless of cognitive and behavioral statuses- in fact these are the kids who probably need devices the most! They may score low on cognitive assessments merely because they don’t have a way to communicate and they may have more severe behavioral issues, again, because they don’t have a way to communicate.

      When I’m working with kids who seem to have few reinforcers, I really try to dig deep into novel stimuli. I love having a wide variety of fun, new and different toys/objects/activities to draw from. Often I allow a student to explore the environment without any interference to see what s/he gravitates towards; I want to see what they do when there are no demands placed upon them. For example, if I see a kid spit into the air next to a window so he can see particles of liquid in the sunlight, I infer that maybe I could get one of those fan mister things to recreate what he liked about spitting into the light. If I see a kid shred tissues and watch them gently fall to the floor I might conclude that she likes to watch things fall slowly and try letting her drop light, plastic beads into a bottle of water. Both of these situations are full of opportunities to teach and model core vocabulary. Please feel free to get in touch if you want to chat!


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