So What is Partner Aided Input and How Do I Do it?

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Partner Aided Input (PAI) has a variety of names that seem to be used interchangeably.  It has also been called Aided Input, Aided Language Stimulation, and Aided Modeling.  It is the crucial first step in teaching a student to use AAC.  We know that modeling is an effective teaching strategy for many of our students with language impairments.  Modeling of how to communicate with AAC is an effective - and powerful - teaching strategy.

Caregivers sometimes have questions about how, exactly, to do PAI.  They seem to be able to understand the concrete nature of modeling hand washing, teeth brushing, washing of dishes.  But communication is sometimes a scary construct for many caregivers.  In my own practice I have seen this time and again.

So, what is it communication partners are supposed to do?  Communication partners should use picture-based communication themselves by pointing to the key words/symbols on the AAC system while providing auditory/speech input.

Partners should model a variety of communication functions. Don’t focus on getting immediate wants and needs met; also model commenting, asking and answering, greeting, protesting, conversing.

Partners should be familiar with the student's AAC system so that they can easily provide these models; using a variety of core words, as well as the fringe vocabulary that is important to that student or that activity.

It's commonly known that we should try to ask questions 80% of the time, and make comments only 20%; thus giving students greater opportunity to respond and use their language skills.

Start out small, so as not to get overwhelmed.  When we tell caregivers and professionals they should be providing PAI all of the time, we get the “deer in the headlights” look. In order not to overwhelm them (which will only lead to abandonment) I tell parents and professionals to start with a single activity in which they feel comfortable providing PAI. For the overwhelming majority - in my experience - this usually ends up being snack time.  Many of my students are motivated by food and snack time is a great time to move away from requesting items to talking about them.  “Is it sweet,”  “I like this,”  “Do you like it,” “Do you want something different,”  “Are you finished?” “Do you want more?”

Providing PAI is meant to build a solid receptive language base upon which to build expressive language.  Expressive language tends to follow receptive, and by providing models you also show where words are in the system, when to use them, how to use them, and how to express a message better.

PAI should be provided without expectation of or pressure for the student to respond.  Partners can self-talk as they do things, or provide a brief, simple explanation of what is happening in the environment, or parallel talk by narrating what the student is doing.

By staying one step ahead of the student’s expressive language skills in our modeling, we provide the language input students need to build their language.  Push the Zone of Proximal Development to move the child one step at a time.

Plan your sessions or activities beforehand to help you structure what you are going to say, what words are important and when to use them.

Keep communication natural and functional.

Susan Berkowitz, MS CCC-SLP, MEd., has been a speech-language pathologist for 40 years. She has worked mostly with children and adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and other developmental disabilities, as well as 8 years in the language-based classrooms in a school district. Susan has worked in public and non-public schools, residential settings, and nonprofit community agencies. She has written for peer-reviewed professional journals and presented at international conferences. Visit her website  and blog for additional resources. For her complete resume, click here.

Bruno, J. & Trembath, D. (2006). Use of aided language stimulation to improve syntactic performance during a weeklong intervention program. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22(4), 300‐313.

Cafiero, J. (1998). Communication power for individuals with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 13(2), 113-121.

Drager, K. (2009). Aided modeling interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders who require AAC. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 18(4), 114-120.

Goossens’ (2000). Facilitation skills for engineered classrooms. Presented at AAC in the Mountains, Park City, UT.

Lund, S. (2004, October). Facilitating grammar development using augmented input and recasting. Paper presented at ISAAC, Natal, Brazil.