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What Is Reciprocal Communication and How Do I Create Communication Loops?


The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) defines communication in the broadest sense as “any act by which one person gives to or receives from another person information about that person’s needs, desires, perceptions, knowledge, or affective states” (National Joint Committee [NJC], 1992; http://  The key words in this definition being “gives to or receives.”  These key words define our focus as clinicians and help determine both receptive and expressive communication needs of each child we serve.  

Individuals use language for many purposes, including to meet their wants and needs, to gain knowledge about the world around them, to develop and maintain social relationships, and to exchange information with others. In order for young children to develop functional language and communication skills, they must be able to comprehend and produce language so that they can take on the reciprocal roles of both listener and speaker in conversational exchanges (Sevcik & Romski, 2002).  Essentially, communication is reciprocal.  In the model of typical language development, children communicate with multiple communication loops using verbal speech.  With Core Vocabulary Exchange System (CVES), individuals may use multi-modal communication to communicate in the roles of both communication partner or receiver by using icons on their core vocabulary foldout and/or binder inserts.   An individual can use a combination of pictures (core vocabulary + personal core and fringe) from the core vocabulary foldout and/or binder inserts, simultaneously construct a message on the communication card and give it to a communication partner.  In response, an expanded or new message can be constructed and returned back to the individual.

Communication partner speaks to child using a 3-word phrase on the communication card. Communication partner pairs verbal speech while pointing to each icon.
Child communicates a message to the communication partner using a 3 word phrase on the communication card.

Reciprocity is an important concept we are focusing on when using CVES.  We not only want to facilitate functions of communication such as asking questions, making requests, commenting, and protesting, but we also want to create a communication loop by talking back to the child using their pictures.  For each child we work with, our goal should be that the child engages in two-way exchanges of communication using novel language.


How do we teach reciprocity?  In young children, we constantly provide verbal feedback.  When a young child says, “What’s that?”, we provide a verbal label – “it’s a ball” or “that’s a truck.”  What about with our children who are using CVES?  We do this by providing verbal + visual feedback on their communication system.  We remove icons off of the CVES Foldout, or we remove several icons and put them onto the communication card and verbally say each icon.  If a child says, “I want ball”, we can create a communication loop by responding with, “Here it is” or “here you go.”    If a child says, “car go” we can respond back and extend language with, “car go up” or “it go here.”  There are endless possibilities with the language we can provide to each communication attempt our client or student makes.  Depending upon the context and situation, we may reply back with a question, with a clarification, or with a statement.

We would love to hear how you are targeting reciprocity using AAC.  Please feel free to leave your comments below or share your story with us: 











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