Communication Basics and Angelman Syndrome

Quick Overview

In this session, Tabi Jones-Wohleber, a speech-language pathologist, discusses communication basics and strategies for effective communication partners of individuals using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). She emphasizes the importance of multimodal communication and the use of core vocabulary in AAC systems. Jones-Wohleber also provides strategies for planning for AAC, speaking AAC as a communication partner, and inviting participation from AAC users. She highlights the significance of time in language development and the role of communication partners in supporting language development. The session concludes with strategies for creating habits around AAC and prioritizing joy and connection in communication interactions.


In this talk, Tabi Jones-Wohleber, a speech-language pathologist, shares her expertise on communication basics and how they relate to individuals with Angelman Syndrome. Tabi has a passion for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and has been involved in the communication pilot project led by Aaron Sheldon. She provides an overview of five foundational understandings and five strategies for effective communication partnerships.

Foundational Understandings

1. We are all multimodal communicators

Tabi emphasizes the importance of empowering individuals by honoring their preferred mode of communication. AAC is not just a device or a communication board, but an umbrella term for all the strategies, modalities, and tools used to facilitate communication. Unaided communication includes eye gaze, gestures, facial expressions, body language, vocalizations, verbal speech, and sign language. Aided communication involves tangible tools such as symbols, communication boards, books, and technology-based devices.

2. Language is the gateway to potential

Language development is crucial for individuals who benefit from AAC. Robust AAC systems provide access to language and allow individuals to express their unique voice. Robust AAC includes core words, fringe words, social words, the alphabet, organization, and customization. It also encompasses messages for communication partners and communication repair strategies.

3. Language development guides AAC use and teaching

Language development occurs over many years, and AAC should be integrated into everyday interactions. Core vocabulary, which comprises high-frequency words, plays a significant role in language development. By mapping language to AAC systems, individuals can access language and express big ideas. Language development is guided by the six basic reasons we communicate: advocating for wants and needs, refusing or complaining, social closeness, sharing information, commenting, and asking questions.

4. Time is an important factor

Language development takes time, and AAC users need patience and opportunities to learn and grow. In the moment, wait time should be reframed as think time to support processing, vision, and motor planning. Time is also essential for creating a balance between exposure to AAC and the child’s readiness to engage with it.

5. Communication partners are crucial

Communication partners play a vital role in language development and AAC use. Strategies for effective communication partnerships include accepting multiple modalities, using the alphabet, verbal referencing, attributing meaning, commenting, leveraging requests, and inviting responses. Communication partners should prioritize joy and connection, set goals, plan for AAC, and create habits around AAC use.

Strategies for Effective Communication Partnerships

1. Accept multiple modalities and use the alphabet

Communication partners should honor and empower individuals by accepting and responding to their preferred mode of communication. The alphabet is a powerful tool that provides access to language and supports communication repair strategies.

2. Verbal referencing

Verbal referencing involves describing what an individual is doing, attributing meaning to their actions, and extending the interaction with open-ended questions or comments. This strategy helps individuals understand the power of symbolic language and encourages them to engage with AAC.

3. Commenting

Commenting is an informative and relevant way to connect with individuals and have fun. Communication partners can comment on what they see, express their opinions, and use a variety of descriptors to make the interaction dynamic and engaging.

4. Give Me Five

Give Me Five is a strategy that encourages communication partners to think of five core words that can be paired with a specific topic or activity. This strategy helps expand language use and provides opportunities for individuals to practice using AAC in different contexts.

5. Leverage requests

While requesting is a powerful motivator for individuals, communication partners should leverage requests to expand language use and engage in meaningful interactions. By modeling other language functions and offering valid choices, communication partners can support individuals in becoming autonomous communicators.


Effective communication partnerships are essential for individuals with Angelman Syndrome and other complex communication needs. By understanding the foundational principles of communication and implementing strategies for AAC use, communication partners can support individuals in developing their communication skills and expressing their unique voice.

Talk details

  • Title: Communication Basics and Angelman Syndrome
  • Author(s): Tabi Jones-Wohleber
  • Author(s)’ affiliation: Frederick County Public Schools
  • Publication date: 2021-08-12
  • Collection: 2021 ASF Virtual Family Conference