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Assessment of Learning
Process (ALP) for AAC

Teaching (and learning) a new access method for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can be overwhelming. ALP for AAC breaks down this learning process into 3 broad stages with 8 specific phases. Use this tool to understand and encourage your learner's (client's) progression with touch, switch, head tracking and eye tracking in AAC.

What is the ALP for AAC?

  • Adapted from the original ALP for Powered Mobility, developed by Lisbeth Nilsson and Josephine Durkin (Nilsson & Durkin, 2014; Nilsson et al, 2011). The commonalities in how someone learns powered mobility and how someone learns access methods to use a speech generating device led to a functional comparison and adaptation for AAC.

  • It can be used by anyone who supports someone who is learning a new access method in AAC.

  • The ALP for AAC provides a framework for understanding progression in AAC access learning.

  • It contains three broad stages of learning, with eight specific phases.

  • The support team looks at five areas of assessment to determine which stage / phase a learner is in.

  • The ALP for AAC considers five areas of assessment to determine how to support them in progressing to the next phase.

Explore the ALP Stages & Phases

ALP for AAC - Stage One


In Stage 1, focus is on body & access method. SGD focus = early exposure to access method, games & participation.

Stage 1 is broken into Phases 1, 2 and 3 where the learner moves from Novice, to Curious Novice, to Beginner. The goal is to move the learner from no interest to beginning intention.

NovicePhase 1

Phase 1 - “This is all new to me.”

No or vague idea of how to use, may use unintentionally and be curious or passive.

Curious NovicePhase 2

Phase 2 - “Something is happening but I'm not sure how or why.”

Attempts approximate activation. Increased interest / alertness during activity.

BeginnerPhase 3

Phase 3 - “I'm making that happen.”

Able to locate target, shows basic understanding of access method.

Next Steps    Back to Overview

ALP for AAC - Stage Two


In Stage 2, focus is on body, access method & communication. SGD focus = intro to language / communication.

Stage 2 is broken into Phases 4 and 5 where the learner moves from Advanced Beginner to Sophisticated Beginner. Learners may regress from Stage 2 to Stage 1, so it is important to continue to assess the learner's current skills and remain vigilant about their progress.

Advanced BeginnerPhase 4

Phase 4 - “I find out more ways to use it.”

Able to locate and select target, and explores different targets. Shifts attention between people and activity.

Sophisticated BeginnerPhase 5

Phase 5 - “I know its use and try to master it.”

Overshoots and undershoots movement. Repeats and varies movement to explore different effects. Exhibits frustration at times.

Final Stage    Back to Overview

ALP for AAC - Stage Three


In Stage 3, focus is on body, access method, communication, environment and everyday activities. SGD focus = improved use of language and system.

Stage 3 is broken into Phases 6, 7 and 8 where the learner moves from Competent to Proficient to Expert. The learner has begun to master their craft and is developing fluid control.

CompetentPhase 6

Phase 6 - “I can use this to communicate.”

Purposeful but unrefined movement. Increased sequencing, may ignore mistakes.

ProficientPhase 7

Phase 7 - “I'm in control and use it fluently.”

Uses device/access method for many functions, movement is controlled & refined.

ExpertPhase 8

Phase 8 - “I'm not thinking about how to use this – I just do it.”

Fluid, precise, automatic movement. The task (not access) is focus.

Five Areas of ALP Assessment

There are five areas of observation and assessment that are considered when trying to determine the learner's current stage and phase. Although the learner's activity and movement with the access method is considered to be indicative of the phase they are in, the other areas provide clues for intervention planning and relative strengths and weaknesses.

Activity & Movement

“Ability to control the access method went from seemingly random movement to clear control. From vague to fluid.”


“She started with no understanding of the purposes of the access method and ended with a complete understanding and ability to manipulate its purpose. From no understanding to complete understanding.”


“She began by showing no attention to the access method and progressed to an ability to sustain focus on both the task and the access method. From distractible to sustained.”

Interaction & Communication

“She started with limited interaction with her communication partners to simultaneously interacting with the device, environment and social partners. She went from no/little social interaction to fully integrated interaction.”

Expressions & Emotion

“She started with some short glances with the instructor to engaging in both signed and verbal communication. She went from neutral to situationally dependent expressions of emotion.”

ALP for AAC in Action

The ALP for AAC has been presented at numerous classes and conferences since 2018. The response to the tool has been overwhelmingly positive. Below are a few examples of how clinicians have used the ALP for AAC.

The ALP for AAC has let effectively quantify the current level of my student's access ability — separate from their language abilities.

By understanding where my student is in the ALP for AAC, I can see a path forward — I know what areas to target and what the next phase looks like.

Turns out I've been mismatching my activities and expectations at kids who are at different levels of learning access. Sometimes my expectations are too high (e.g., learning to use a full vocabulary system when they're at a phase 2) and sometimes they're too low (e.g., only having a minimal amount of vocabulary when they're clearly at a phase 4 or 5). Looking at the development of the areas of assessment has helped me pull my expectations and activities into alignment.

With this framework I've been able to see the progress my student makes over the course of several sessions. Even if they stay in one phase, I am more aware when they're growing in different areas… for example, increased their attention or understanding!

Find an ALP Event Near You

Thanks for your interest in an ALP for AAC training. Please fill out the form below and we will be in contact within 3 business days. Please note that this is not a guarantee of training availability.

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The ALP for AAC is presented at conferences and Access Courses across the US and Canada. If you'd like to inquire about a private ALP for AAC training for your facility, please request one below.

Due to public health concerns about the Covid-19 virus, PRC-Saltillo will only be providing in-person trainings when we can comply with CDC and local guidelines, and we feel we can ensure the health and safety of our hosts, attendees, and trainers. As conditions change, trainings may be moved online, as necessary. If you have questions about PRC-Saltillo trainings, please email


  Overview of Stages and Phases


  Detailed ALP for AAC


About Us

The ALP for AAC was developed in partnership among Lisbeth Nilsson (independent Occupational Therapist, Sweden), Chip Clarke (Owner, Assistive Technology Works) and Sarah Wilds (Speech Language Pathologist, PRC-Saltillo).

Lisbeth Nilsson, Ph.D., OT, is an occupational therapist who has been researching powered mobility intervention for people with cognitive disabilities for 25 years. She has developed the method “Driving to Learn” in a powered wheelchair and in collaboration with Josephine Durkin (UK), she developed the ALP tool. She has presented her findings worldwide for 20 years and her interest is to translate her findings to other assistive technology specialties. The ALP for AAC is the first of those adaptations. More information about the ALP and her work on powered mobility can be found at

Chip Clarke, M.S., CCC-SLP, has been working in the field of assistive technology for over 25 years, and has been integral in development of various access technologies including eye gaze and head tracking. He regularly presents at local, regional and national conferences and runs in-depth workshops on access methods around the country. He is the owner of Assistive Technology Works based out of Virginia, and consults regularly for PRC-Saltillo.

Sarah Wilds, M.S., CCC-SLP, has been working with augmentative and alternative communication for 20 years. She has worked with children and adults across educational and private practice settings, and presented on implementation methods surrounding language and access across the United States. She is currently Vice President of Product and Service Development at PRC-Saltillo.