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Q&A with David Beukelman and Janice Light

David Beukelman and Janice Light are the authors of the forthcoming fifth edition of the classic bestseller Augmentative & Alternative Communication. We spoke with them about what’s new and improved in the latest edition.

Q: We’re excited about the new fifth edition of Augmentative & Alternative Communication. Why, in your opinion, is a new edition of this book especially important right now?

A: As we revised this edition, we were very aware of the estimated five million Americans—and more than 97 million people worldwide—who have complex communication needs and limited or no access to conventional channels of communication. Without access to speech, writing, and typing, people with complex communication needs are severely limited in their ability to express needs and wants, exchange information, develop social relationships, and establish their identities.

While some children and adults experience complex communication needs as a temporary condition due to medical conditions, most people who rely on AAC do depend on it to support their communication for extended periods of time, if not for their entire lives. We recognized the need to prepare a range of individuals to support their communication needs, including family members, caregivers, and professionals. While this new edition is intended for preservice professionals and current service providers from a range of disciplines, it may also help family members and other caregivers. To further assist those who deliver AAC intervention services and support, we’ve also provided information that links the content of the book with online resources available through the AAC Learning Center.

Q: What changes have you made to the new edition to address the rapid advancement of the AAC field?

A: While the overall organization of the fifth edition is similar to the fourth edition, we have updated and expanded the content on AAC interventions to address advances in the field. We focus even more intensely on personalized or individualized interventions that enhance participation in employment, personal care, medical care, and community living, as well as education.

People with complex communication needs and their families remain the central focus of this book. As we revised, we remained keenly aware of our dependence on those who have documented their experiences with AAC. We drew on these sources in order to tell the “AAC story,” which is much more extensive than the selection of technologies. We believe strongly in the principle “nothing about us without us,” and throughout the book, we’ve infused the perspectives of people who rely on AAC and the voices of their family members.

We’ve also welcomed a new co-author for this edition. Janice Light, who had been a chapter author on previous editions of the textbook, brings to this edition her expertise on AAC services for children and youth with developmental disability. We gratefully acknowledge Pat Mirenda’s significant role in co-authoring the first four editions of this textbook. She chose not to be an author for the fifth edition, but she graciously allowed us to integrate some of her most important past work into this edition

Q: What would you say are the most important additions you’ve made to the book in the fifth edition?

A: Of course, we updated all the chapters to reflect recent advances in research and development, especially the changes to AAC systems. However, there are a number of important additions as well.

The first is the focus on language and literacy learning by beginning communicators—specifically, ways to integrate this learning into their daily lives and personal experiences. We’ve added a new chapter focused on collaborating with families and other communication partners to support people who rely on AAC. We’ve also expanded the information related to AAC intervention to enhance participation in life experiences, including education, employment, and community activities.

Another addition is the focus on patient–provider communication. Accurate, effective communication for patients in medical settings and situations is essential to appropriate, quality care. Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, and such errors may be precipitated by communication failures between patients and providers during medical care. We’ve devoted a new chapter in the fifth edition to addressing these critical issues.

Finally, we recognize the importance of advocacy to reduce environmental barriers and improve the lives of people who rely on AAC. We added a short chapter at the end of the book to highlight advocacy issues.

Q: What suggestions do you have for instructors teaching this course? What are your top tips?

A: As I mentioned earlier, approximately 5 million children, youth, and adults in the United States experience complex communication needs and would benefit from AAC services. Preservice professionals need to realize that whether they work in schools, medical settings, or long-term care facilities, they will need to support the communication needs of these individuals. Professors should prepare their students to serve not only people with complex communication needs but also those who support their communication on a daily basis—family members, caregivers, and other communication partners.

AAC services involve so much more than an assessment and selection of a communication device or communication materials. Students need to become familiar with a wide range of AAC options and resources, and this book addresses that need. We have provided helpful online resources connected to this new edition. Professors should encourage students to make use of the AAC Learning Center (, supported by Penn State University—a valuable resource for their learning and their instruction of other communication partners. At the AAC Learning Center, students will find a repository of videos featuring the experiences and perspectives of people who rely on AAC and their families, plus other instructional resources.

Interested in Learning More?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Fifth Edition
This classic bestseller is now in its fifth edition—revised and updated for a new generation of SLPs, teachers, occupational therapists, and other professionals in clinical and educational settings. Check out the book »

See what’s been added and updated in the new edition. What’s new? »

Read a free excerpt of the book. Look inside »

View a sample course outline. How to use this new edition in the classroom »