The ABC of S2C = AAC!

Did you know that here in the US we have a national position regarding disability?  It’s true, and actually we’re not alone.  Most of the 150+ countries who are members of the World Health Organization do as well.1  Thankfully the United States has publicly confirmed our position in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Section 1400 (c) (1) (1).  Here it explicitly states: “disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the rights of individuals to contribute to society.”  This infamous federal law goes on further to mandate: “Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”2  

For nonspeaking, minimally speaking and unreliably speaking individuals an effective method of communication is often a critical missing ingredient to accessing those civil rights and equal opportunities.  Thankfully Spelling to Communicate (S2C) has emerged as an extremely effective form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) thus  bridging the gap for this marginalized population of disabled people.  S2C has brought agency, access and autonomy to hundreds of nonspeakers already and is poised to help hundreds more in the next several years as we continue the rigorous training of S2C Practitioners along with parents and 1:1 Communication-Regulation Partners (CRPs) worldwide.

Naturally, the idea that technology enhances the lives of persons with disabilities is not rocket science to anyone drawing breath in today’s current digital world.  But did you know that our national policy first started mandating technology be used to assist people with disabilities as far back as the early 70’s?  It’s true!  This began with the passing of the Rehabilitation Act (Pl 93-112)4 and was followed by multiple other laws that continued to expand the federal requirements in this domain.  “Assistive Technology” and a giant push for the development of new knowledge of tools, assistive technology devices and services became of paramount national importance.

So what exactly is considered an Assistive Technology Device?  IDEA 2004 specifically defines it as: “Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.”5   By definition then, the materials used in S2C are assistive technology devices.  The low tech AT items used when spelling to communicate include letterboards (laminate or sensory foam) and stencils.  The high tech AT items include such things as software programs (such as text to voice) and hardware such as iPads, computers and wireless keyboards.   Moving along the definition of AT, let’s look at the functional capabilities S2C increases, improves or maintains in people with disabilities.  Starting with effective communication itself, S2C unequivocally gives nonspeakers a voice!  Their own voice, in fact.  Consequently, S2C allows an individual to practice self-determination & self-advocacy, gain access to education, employment & relationships, and increase inclusion opportunities a hundred fold.

Teaching someone Spelling to Communicate is an Assistive Technology Service according to how IDEA 2004 defines it in Sec. 300.6.  It reads that an AT Service is “any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.”6.  S2C specifically teaches individuals with motor challenges the acquisition of purposeful motor skills necessary to point to letters to spell as an alternative means of communication (AAC).  The goal is to achieve synchrony between the brain and the body.  Using a hierarchy of verbal and gestural prompts, students’ skills improve through consistent practice and progress from pointing to letters on letterboards to typing on a keyboard.  Accordingly, communication moves from concrete to abstract as motor skills progress.7

Under the larger umbrella of assistive technology devices we find the subcategory called Augmentative & Alternative Communication aids.  S2C, because it improves functional communication, falls under AAC.  Remember that all forms of communication – whether we’re talking about a facial expression, a gesture, composing a text or utilizing a speech generating device (SGD) – require some degree of motor skills in order to execute them.  Part of what makes S2C so unique and life enhancing is that teaching purposeful motor skills is one of its primary objectives.  The communication that comes as a result of increasing motor skills and accuracy in pointing to letters is a natural byproduct.  That is what makes this particular form of AAC so powerful.  S2C not only improves nonspeakers’ functional communication ability on the boards, but it also helps them “off the boards” as they gain greater abilities to gesture, sign, make facial expressions and move their bodies with more control and intention.  Certainly these additional outcomes give nonspeakers an even greater chance to access “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency”8 as our national policy on disability has promised them.


Written by Dawnmarie Gaivin

Dawnmarie Gaivin is an S2C Practitioner and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre living in San Diego, California.



  1. World Health Organization National Policy Documents. (2013, March 25). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from
  2. IDEA Section 1400 (c) (1). (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from
  3. Effective Communication. (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from
  4. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Sec. 103. (a) (11). (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from
  5. IDEA Section 1401 Definitions. (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from
  6. IDEA Section Sec. 300.6 Assistive technology service. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2019, from
  7. Growing Kids Therapy Center: About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from
  8. IDEA Section 1400 (c) (1). (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from



Carpenter, L. B. (2015). Assistive technology: Access for all students. Boston: Pearson.

Donnellan, A. M., PhD, & Leary, M. R., CCC-SLP. (1995). Movement Differences and Diversity in Autism/Mental Retardation. Madison, WI: DRI Press.

Legal Mandates for Assistive Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Torres, E. B., & Whyatt, C. (2018). Autism: The movement sensing perspective. Boca Raton: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

What Is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)? (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C) with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association.

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