SpeechPathology.comPhone: 800-242-5183

New master brand. Same great company. Introducing continued! Read Our Story

Staffing Options and Solutions, Inc. (SOS)

A Communication Independence Model: For People With Severe Communication Disabilities

A Communication Independence Model: For People With Severe Communication Disabilities
Yvonne Gillette
January 31, 2005


The more functional skills an individual possesses, the more independently that person can function in their daily life. Brown, Branston, Hamre-Nietupski, Pumpian, Certo, & Gruenewald (1979) indicated that functional skills were those required to function independently in the natural environment. If someone cannot perform functional skills independently, someone else (a communication partner, or significant other etc.) must assist to accomplish these goals and tasks. Examples of functional skills would include; making meals, taking a shower, washing clothes or calling a doctor to make an appointment. Functional skill development is the foundation of best practices in the field of disabilities.

Communication is a major functional skill. When an individual cannot communicate, often their communication partners assist with prompts and interpretations. When this occurs, the individual with the disability is not communicating independently. Additionally, given this situation, it is not possible to determine if the message source is truly the disabled individual or the significant other.

The notion of "communication independence" is based on the observation that individuals with severe disabilities often depend upon significant others to send messages. In some cases, significant others play "20 questions" to determine wants, needs, and desires. Examples include;

"Do you want to play outside or inside?"
"Do you need to use the bathroom?"
"Who do you want me to call?"

Other times, partners prompt the individual to say certain things. For example;

"Tell the lady you want a short haircut."
"Say please!"

Significant others translate information to third parties, and also to themselves. For example;

"When he makes that face, I know he wants to go home."

These communication exchanges reveal the need for a model of communication independence for individuals with severe disabilities. To be effective, intervention to foster and promote independent communication must include partners, and partners may need to change their expectations and strategies. In fact, partners often have no expectation for independent communication.

Partners often over-use questions, prompts, and interpretations because they believe they need these props to bolster communication with the individual. However, the Communication Independence Model (Gillette, 2003) suggests strategies such as commenting, waiting, and modeling should occur more frequently than questioning, prompting, and interpreting. Many individuals with severe disabilities can participate more fully -- once their partners alter their communication strategies and expectations.

The Communication Independence Model provides a strategy for assessing communication opportunities and skills, then planning for opportunity and skill growth. In this way, independent communication can evolve within everyday communication opportunities. When clients have severe communication disabilities, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) should consider a contextual, interactive approach to developing communication relationships with existing partners, and the SLP should assess existing communication opportunities and client skills within everyday contexts.

yvonne gillette

Yvonne Gillette

Related Courses

AAC Intervention Strategies for Linguistic Competency
Presented by Trina Becker, MS, CCC-SLP


Trina Becker, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #6212 1 Hour
  'clear and concise'   Read Reviews
It is often difficult to teach children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) skills beyond requesting and protesting. This course will focus on language intervention strategies that can be used to increase a variety of communication behaviors, including competence with semantics/vocabulary and syntax/morphology, in children who use AAC.
AAC Intervention Strategies for Social Competency
Presented by Trina Becker, MS, CCC-SLP


Trina Becker, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #6438 1 Hour
  'Great real life videos'   Read Reviews
Social skills for AAC users are important for establishing connections with others, developing friendships and functioning in the community. Strategies for developing social competency skills with AAC users will be shared.
AAC Success in the School Setting
Presented by Patty Ashby, MNS, CCC-SLP


Patty Ashby, MNS, CCC-SLP
Course: #6654 1 Hour
  'Speaker showed different examples of goals and behaviors some students will have to avoid their devices'   Read Reviews
This course will focus on writing effective goals for students who use augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) in the school environment. Strategies the SLP can utilize in the school setting as well as strategies to increase use of augmentative communication by teaching and support staff will be discussed.
Whet your APPetite with a Bountiful Menu of Social Skill Teaching Options
Presented by Laurie Jacobs, MA, CCC-SLP


Laurie Jacobs, MA, CCC-SLP
Course: #6701 1 Hour
  'I liked the examples and uses of the apps'   Read Reviews
Explore the world of social learning apps. Tap into the true power of these programs, with engaging and customizable intervention techniques. Learn to manage and fully utilize apps to make your social therapy tools portable and to build a successful generalization program for your students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Integrating Literacy Learning into Therapy for Students with AAC Needs
Presented by Carole Zangari, PhD, CCC-SLP


Carole Zangari, PhD, CCC-SLP
Course: #6729 1 Hour
  'the great materials and websites'   Read Reviews
Students with significant communication challenges require extensive supports to develop skills in reading and writing. This course will describe ways of infusing Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy sessions with opportunities for literacy learning. Practical strategies and activities will be discussed.