What are semantics in language development?

Vocabulary Instruction in AACFor all of us, the process of how we learn to use words begins with the expression of our own intents. Initially, we use words, pictures, or signs to make our wants/needs known but that soon develops into social exchanges, true conversations, stories, and more. For some of our AAC friends, the path to a rich lexicon can be convoluted and bumpy. Our November Strategy of the Month posts will focus on vocabulary instruction giving both general principles that should guide our teaching and specific considerations for communicators at different levels.

As SLPs, we should be champions for a comprehensive approach to semantic instruction in AAC. Much of what we already know for teaching semantics to people who speak can be applied quite nicely to individuals with AAC needs. Certainly some things will need to be adapted, but that’s not the real issue. We’ve noticed that SLPs sometimes forget to apply the wealth of knowledge they already possess about vocabulary instruction. We get distracted by the ‘AAC-ness’ of the situation, and lose touch with what we really know: how to teach language.

Vocabulary teaching is woefully under-represented in the AAC work that we do. What we DO remember and apply often focuses on assessment. We administer tests for single word vocabularies (receptive and expressive), measure lexical diversity using type-token ratios, etc. Our vocabulary goals are often limited to receptive identification or the use of basic descriptors, such as color or size. But our teaching doesn’t always follow the recommended practices for vocabulary development that have come out of research with typical language learners and students with special needs.

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