AAC Path Pages

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the work of Dr, Patricia Dowden, University of Washington

Dr. Patricia Dowden’s continuum describes an individual's expressive communication based on observable communication behaviors. The model was developed to be used in intervention planning for communicators using AAC tools and strategies or those who may benefit from such tools and strategies.  The continuum holds in mind both those who have lost language due to injury and those who are developing language.  The broad  communication intervention goal when using this continuum, therefore, is to support a communicator’s achievement of communication independence.   Dr. Dowden’s continuum includes three categories:  Emerging Communication, Context-Dependent Communication, and Independent Communication.  The continuum describes the limitations and skills present in each category, progressing the communicator toward independence with language and literacy.  


Dr. Dowden captures the sentiment of this quote in more tangible, and actionable terms in her definition of communication independence-

"the ability to communicate anything on any topic to anyone"

In this definition, It doesn't matter whether or not the individual relies on a communication aid or device, as long as he or she can communicate anything to anyone he/she chooses.


Since most of us able-bodied speakers take this for granted, it might be easiest to understand independence by seeing its absence in some cases.


  • Spoken language can only be understood by some people, or...

  • other people have to program all vocabulary in a device, or...

  • A communicator  cannot spell well enough to compose novel messages

  • She is given no opportunity to communicate what she wants to say, or...

  • his communication system doesn't match his motor skills making it difficult to control, or...

  • her communication system doesn't match her communication needs, or...

  • there are partners who influence communication through cueing, or...

  • he has hidden vision impairments making it hard to see the symbols, or...

  • she has a hidden hearing impairment making it difficult to hear what is said, or...

  • he has been given insufficient training and time to learn to use his AAC system, or...

  • she has no access to a communication system at times, or...

  • he cannot see the display on his system in some light conditions, or...

  • no one believes she has anything worth listening to....etc.

These are all ways that someone is held back from independence. You should notice that these are all limitations that can be addressed and changed as long as we get to know the communicator.  This the foundation of Dr. Dowden's CCI model, of how we can help make someone truly communicatively independent.



adapted from Dowden's CCI by Tanna Neufeld, MS, CCC-SLP

The AAC Journey framework closely mirrors Dr. Cowden’s continuum with one key difference-the AAC Journey framework holds in mind only those communicators who are developing language with the support of AAC tools and strategies.  The AAC Journey Framework, as with Dowden’s CCI, holds typical communicative development at its core and therefore, guides intervention toward communication independence along a typical developmental path.  This framework has three categories:  Explorer, Navigator, and Conqueror.  

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