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You Have the Power!

“With great power comes great responsibility.” –Benjamin Parker


Imagine if someone else had the power to choose the words you could learn to say. If that person didn’t think a certain word was important or didn’t think you would be able to learn it, you would never get the chance to say it. On the other hand, if that person believed in your potential, presumed competence, and advocated for you, you could learn how to communicate all of your thoughts.


Introducing a communication device is a HUGE privilege and responsibility. Every choice we make directly affects our clients’ (or pets’) ability to learn language and communicate. Too often we are guided by the instinct response, “what if it doesn’t work?” and either proceed hesitantly or stop the pursuit altogether. The opposite question, “what if it does work?” is really what we should be asking ourselves. Everyone can learn to communicate. Being guided by optimism, possibilities, and confidence that the right intervention will work sets up our learners for their best success.


Each word on Stella’s communication device was carefully considered before implementation. One of the most important takeaways from my graduate school AAC class was that “real estate is precious.” With a limited amount of space on her current device, each word needs to serve a unique purpose for Stella and allow her to talk about lots of things. These goals are most achievable by having the right balance of core words and fringe words available to Stella. Core words make up the core of what we say. Actually, 80% of what we say is composed of about the same 300 words! The remaining 20% of words are fringe words. These words are used less often and offer less flexibility. Both types of words are necessary for functional communication. Let’s take a look at the words on Stella’s AAC device!


73% of Stella’s words are core words. These are “outside, come, help, no, play, love you, eat, water, good, walk, bye.” All of these words can be used in different ways. For example, the word “play” can be used for several different communication functions. Stella can direct one of us to play by saying “Christina play” “Jake play.” She can tell us she’s mad if we’re working by saying “play no.” She can tell us she wants to “play outside” or can request her toy filled with food by saying, “eat play.” We know Stella is happy when she says “play good.” But, what if we changed the word “play” to “ball?” Now Stella would only be able to talk about her ball, not any other toy or type of playing! So, we would need to add 4 more buttons for Stella to be able to talk about all of her favorite toys. Instead of using one third of Stella’s buttons for toy names, we can use one core word “play.” This opens up space for more communication!


26% of Stella’s words are fringe words. These are “Jake, Christina, Stella, beach.” You’ll notice these words are nouns and are only applicable to one person or place. Specific vocabulary words are helpful for Stella to create more complex messages and tell us exactly what she wants, however they shouldn't make up the majority of her device.


I often think about times when I considered not adding a word that Stella now uses regularly. If I had given into my initial doubts, Stella would have missed out on communicating so many of her thoughts. When an individual’s communication is at stake, the possibilities of success far outweigh the nonexistent consequences of failure. Guided by the question “what if it does work,” I’m adding several more words to Stella’s device! Order some buttons for your pup, watch and read along for inspiration, and see what your dog has been wanting to tell you. Let’s create a world of talking dogs :)



Christina Hunger, M.A., CCC-SLP

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© 2020 by Christina Hunger, M.A., CCC-SLP