Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, vol. 6, pp 306–314 (April 2021).



Copyright © 2021 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Used by permission.


Purpose: Many, but not all, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a difficult time communicating in conventional ways to express their decisions, preferences, and ideas. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can fulfill many purposes of communication and support a child to achieve maximal self-determination and agency. The goal of assessment is not to fit the child to a particular device or communication strategy—but rather to identify the strategies that enhance the child’s strengths to maximize their independent communication and ultimately their ability to exert control over their world.

Method: Our method was to combine results from our scoping review of the research literature, observations of videos of AAC assessments being conducted by specialists, and interviews with AAC experts (Lund, Quach, Weissling, McKelvey, & Dietz, 2017) and use these combined sources to extract overlapping themes. Finally, we completed an expert review of the results to verify their validity.

Results: There are 11 areas, which we found through our research, that should be included when assessing the communication and language skills of children with ASD who are minimally verbal. They are communication needs, current communication skills, language, cognition, symbol representation, sensory perceptual skills, motor skills, literacy, behavior, preferences, and system features.

Conclusions: It is important to embrace agency and choice throughout the assessment process. Having access to communication through AAC can give children with ASD a voice not only to express their choices but also to increase their self-determination.