Communication or Compliance…or Both?

Jul 21, 2022

Throughout the AAC field, communication and language skill development is generally targeted through two distinct approaches: communication and compliance. Both are essential to growing the skills of individuals with complex communication needs. However, support teams often exclusively use one approach and not the other, which results in gaps between skill sets of those with complex communication needs. First, it is important to identify which approach you are currently implementing: compliance or communication?

The communication approach and the compliance approach have distinct characteristics that separate them from each other, as well as produce different outcomes for communication patterns. Let’s take a look at each approach:

  • Communication: This approach to developing communication and language skills is heavily focused on establishing and building an interpersonal relationship between the learner and facilitator (communication partner), typically during routine and/or motivating activities. The interaction may go in a different direction than initially intended by the activity. Communication and language use and development necessary for full participation in interpersonal relationships and functional tasks is the goal.
  • Compliance: This approach to developing communication and language skills is heavily focused on task completion. The tasks or activities are typically designed to facilitate language skill development and to gather data in relation to the individual’s skills and areas of need. Communication and language use are scripted and predetermined. Completion of the task or activity to develop the individual’s communication and language skills is the goal.

It is evident that language, communication, and social competencies are separate domains to be targeted with the learner. Once the foundational skills in these three domains are laid, however,  the communication approach and the compliance approach both must be implemented with individuals who have complex communication needs during intervention in order to provide the individual with the necessary skills to become a well-rounded and dynamic communicator. Therefore, the communication approach and the compliance approach must be weaved together and implemented simultaneously during intervention to make learning engaging and purposeful for all involved.

The key to effectively weaving the compliance approach and the communication approach together is to plan and structure activities that are engaging to the learner, while still targeting specific therapy goals and communication skills. Identify engaging, motivating, and/or routine activities that are familiar to the learner and then identify the goal(s) and/or area(s) of communication you would like to target.

Infuse opportunities to work on the goal(s) and/or area(s) of communication you identified by intentionally creating naturalistic communication opportunities that revolve around those areas of communication and/or goals. The success of an activity is NOT dependent on its completion, but rather on the communication and language use and growth the activity produces from the learner.

The communication approach and the compliance approach to AAC implementation are separate in that they facilitate the development of different skillsets related to the use of AAC, but they are also connected as the skillsets they each target must be present in learners with complex communication needs.

The compliance approach and the communication approach must be carefully woven together to create learning and AAC implementation efforts purposeful, engaging, and most importantly, effective.