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Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults
Ages: 12-Adult   Grades: 7-Adult

Increase the opportunities for independence!  Teach young adults with developmental disabilities the vocabulary of home, community, work, and leisure.


  • Increase functional communication
  • Gain independence and develop friendships
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The lessons in Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults work through a series of receptive and expressive language tasks to enhance communication skills in young adults with developmental disabilities.  Tap all learning modalities through:

  • Pictures providing important visual cues for the tasks.
  • The flexible format allowing you to start with the items at the level that's best for your students or choose the theme that fits what is happening in your student's life.
  • Well-organized structure of tasks in each lesson:
    • Point to the correct picture in response to your question
           Show me the soap.
           What do you dry off with?
    • Complete matching, listening, and visual memory tasks with the picture cards provided for each lesson
    • Imitate words and sentences and complete simple sentences
           I see a washcloth.
      I use a ____.
    • Name, describe, and answer questions about each item
           Describe how you shave.
           Name six grooming items.
    • Answer critical thinking and problem solving questions related to real-life situations
           Why do you wash your hands before eating?
           How do you know if you need to shave?

Lesson themes include 86 topics such as:

Home—grooming, hair care, clothing, laundry, and food groups

Community—apartment, city bus, bank/ATM, restaurant, and grocery store

Work—job choices, getting a job, baker/helper, laundry worker, and stock clerk

Leisure—baseball, soccer, board games, dance, and movie theatre


Copyright © 2005

179 pages, reproducible pictures

In accordance with American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) guidelines for the Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists Serving Persons With Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults allows you to:

  • service adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities who need enhancement of communication skills to function in their everyday environments
  • collaborate with staff so your lessons correspond with the classroom's lessons
  • provide appropriate lessons for students who have limited English proficiency in addition to their developmental disability
  • consider communication at home, at work, in the community, and during recreational and leisure activities

Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults covers transition topics including vocabulary related to:

  • independent living skills
  • community participation
  • vocational skills
  • student interests—leisure and recreational activities
  • References

    American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). 2005. Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists serving persons with mental retardation/developmental disabilities [Guidelines]. Available from

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. 2004. Reauthorized statute, secondary transition.


Beverly Plass


Beverly Plass, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in the Irvine Unified School District in Irvine, California, and in private practice.  She has worked with adolescents with developmental disabilities for the past 14 years.  She has found that the key to student success is tied to their ability to understand and communicate about living, working, and playing.

Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents and Adults is Bev's fourth publication with LinguiSystems.  She is also the author of SPARC R & S, SPARC Artic Junior, and SPARC L.


I once had two students who did job training at a nursery.  They filled pots with soil and planted cuttings into each pot.  Thirty-six pots were arranged in a flat.  One student worked steadily and completed 10-12 flats in a two hour period.  He was a quiet guy.  He would respond with one- to two-word utterances if prodded, but he preferred to stick to his work.  The young lady, however, was overly friendly.  Each day, she greeted the coworkers with a loud, "I'm so glad to see you!  What have you been up to?"  She often stopped working to chat with the other workers.

At the end of the two-hour period, she typically completed one to two flats.  At the end of the year, the nursery owners offered paid employment to one of the workers, which was the ultimate goal of our job training program.  We assumed the job would go to the hardworking, productive young man.  Instead, the owners chose the young lady because they felt that they could talk to her.

I later read studies supporting the idea that employees who can communicate effectively at work are more successful at keeping their jobs.  That is why I feel it is imperative to teach functional vocabulary to teens and young adults with developmental disabilities.

Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults helps speech-language pathologists and special education teachers teach clients to understand and communicate about daily living.  You can teach vocabulary related to the home, the community, work, and leisure activities.  The lessons are geared toward clients with developmental disabilities, autism, and/or English as a Second Language.  The flexible format allows you to cater the lessons to a wide range of ability levels.

Receptive tasks are appropriate for your clients who are nonverbal or new to learning English.  These activities allow the client to hear the target vocabulary words several times, respond by pointing, and apply the knowledge to real situations.  The receptive tasks also include a "visual memory" component, which helps clients learn to communicate about things not present.

Expressive tasks begin with simple picture-naming, sentence imitation, and sentence completion.  This allows clients with autism and clients beginning to use short utterances to use the vocabulary in simple sentences.  The expressive tasks then expand to identifying categories, explaining functions, sequencing events, and recalling information.  The recalling tasks are to help clients visualize and discuss things not present.  Expressive activities allow clients to use the vocabulary during meaningful and functional activities.  At the highest level, critical thinking and problem solving questions allow the client to use the new vocabulary while thinking of solutions to real-life predicaments.

You do not need to follow the units in this book sequentially.  You can collaborate and choose lessons that correspond with classroom units.  For example, if the class is going to the grocery store, you can use the units about nutrition, mealtimes, grocery shopping, and the grocery store.  If your clients are visiting job sites, you can use the units that correspond to the occupations they'll be observing and the places in the community they'll be visiting.  Note: In the Work section, I used the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (United States Department of Labor – Fourth Edition, Revised 1991, which is available online at as a reference when determining how to label the job titles that are featured in this book.  Feel free to modify the terminology so that it fits your program or the job titles available in your area.

For any unit, you do not need to ask all of the questions in each section.  One client may focus on understanding the vocabulary while another client practices using the vocabulary in various sentences and answers questions.  A third client can target problem solving tasks using the same topic.  You can also modify the expectations for any task.  For example, in the Expressive Vocabulary section of a unit, you may ask one client to recall all six pictures and another client to recall only three pictures.  The flexibility allows you the freedom to meet the individual language needs of your clients across all of the topic areas.

You may also use the pictures in this book for other activities:

  • Create written language assignments that correspond with the vocabulary.  Clients can write definitions and answer the expressive questions in writing.
  • Copy the pictures onto card stock.  Cut them out and laminate them to use for picture communication books.
  • Have clients create personal dictionaries by adding a picture page to their folders each time they learn new words.
  • Use the community pictures to have clients help plan the next Community-Based Instruction.
  • Use the vocational pictures as a job interest survey.
  • Use the pictures during a scavenger hunt while on Community-Based Instruction.
  • Have clients practice expanding utterances, using clear articulation, using appropriate voice levels, and speaking fluently.

Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults helps you teach your clients the terms they need to be successful in everyday life.

Beverly Plass