November 28, 2022

Your assessment is finished. Your device recommendation was accepted. The device has arrived, been programmed, and is fully charged. Now what?

Writing IEP goals for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users can be a challenging component of the intervention process for SLPs. I struggled with this early in my career, only to realize I was vastly overcomplicating the matter.

AAC therapy is, at its core, language therapy.

The addition of the device to the mix is crucial but it does not completely derail the language goal writing we know and love. That’s not to say that there aren’t additional considerations to be made when writing language goals for complex communicators. All four types of communication competence must be considered when writing goals including linguistic competence, operational competence, social competence, and strategic competence. These four competencies were coined by Dr. Janice Light (Light et al, 1989) and are broken down, briefly, below.

Linguistic Competency

· Expressive and receptive language skills

· Accessing a multitude of communicative functions (requesting, commenting, asking questions, etc.)

· Use of appropriate syntax and morphology

Operational Competence

· Appropriate operation of AAC device (transportation, turning it on/off, changing the volume, etc.)

· Accessing AAC device appropriately (visual attention/scanning)

Social Competence

· Pragmatic language components of AAC communication (greetings/closures, building relationships, maintaining a conversation)

Strategic Competence

· Communication repair skills

One of my favorite parts of our speech pathology community is the wealth of resources our fellow SLPs have created and share largely for free to spread knowledge and awareness. The Dynamic AAC Goals Grid 2 (DAGG-2) from Tobii Dynavox provides excellent reference points for all four communicative competencies mentioned above, even going so far as to break the goals into five stages of ability level (emergent, emergent transitional, context-dependent, transitional independent and independent).

Tobii Dynavox isn’t the only AAC company to develop accessible resources for SLPs to use for AAC goal writing. In a blog post written by Laura Hayes (2022), Forbes AAC takes us way back to our undergraduate courses with a reminder of SMART goal writing set up, and a step-by-step process on how to incorporate this goal writing technique into our AAC goals.

In my own practice, I found the most grounding and helpful guidance from Linda Burkhart and Gayle Porter’s publication “Writing IEP Goals and Objectives for Receptive and Expressive Communication for Children with Complex Communication Needs,” from the PODD Communication Books Advanced Workshop Manual (2019). They advise SLPs to ensure all goals for AAC users:

Focus on flexibility for the student to communicate their own individual messages when they want to communicate them Encourage the student to use a multitude of communicative functions (e.g. not just requesting or answering questions) Do not dictate the message of the student in question

These three principles force me to check my goal writing when I am writing IEPs for my students. I often find myself interrogating myself throughout the process. Do I have receptive language goals, or am I only working on expressive language? Am I working to expand my student’s vocabulary as well as their utterance length? Am I targeting multiple communicative functions? And finally, and perhaps most importantly, do these goals allow room for the individuality present in all communicators OR does it box them into a specific phrasing dictated by me?

Below are several resources to peruse to aid with AAC goal writing. Would any of you be interested in creating a goal bank for common AAC IEP goals? Or are you having trouble with the wording of a goal for a specific student? Comment below!

For more in this AAC Assessment series be sure to read:

AAC Assessment in Schools – A Team Approach

Virtual AAC Assessment

Push In vs Pull Out – AAC Therapy


Ahern, K. (2014, April 8). Meaningful and evidence-based goals – part one AAC. Retrieved October 31, 2022, from

Burkhart, L. & Porter, G. (2019). Writing IEP Goals and Objectives for Receptive and Expressive Communication for Children with Complex Communication Needs. Retrieved from:

Clarke, Vicki and Holly Schneider. “Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2” Published by Tobii Dynavox on-line. 2015. Accessed at

Hayes, L. (n.d.). Goal Writing for AAC Users. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from

Light, J. (1989). Toward a Definition of Communicative Competence for Individuals Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 5, 137–144 Rowland, C. (2016). The communication matrix. Retrieved from:

About the Author

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Marisa Julius is a speech-language pathologist that has worked in both public and private school settings with a focus in pediatric augmentative and alternative communication therapy. She currently works for a private specialized school setting with children 5-21 with complex communication needs and a variety of disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Language Delays, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and more. She is a Missouri native and earned two Bachelor degrees from Truman State University in Communication Disorders and German Studies. She received her M.A. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Saint Louis University. She considers herself a lifelong learner, and is thrilled to be writing for SLP Toolkit, if only for an additional excuse to read more. In her free time, you can find her cooking, reading, hiking, or showing everyone unsolicited pictures of her dog.