What is AAC?
Augmentative (in addition to) and Alternative (instead of) Communication (AAC) is any method (device, system, technique) that helps an individual with significant communication difficulties communicate more effectively. Think about how a speaking person communicates with others. They might send an email, use a hand gesture to gain attention, or use facial expressions to express emotions. For those with communication challenges, they might use a Speech Generating Device (SGD) to answer questions in class or talk to someone on the phone. They might use a combination of modalities, such as sign language, a high or low-tech communication system, and speech. Remember, communication is more than just spoken words, it’s about giving and receiving ideas, thoughts, wants, and needs to another person. This can be accomplished in many different ways!
What are the different types of AAC?
There are three types of AAC:
1.) No Tech: Doesn’t require extra equipment. This includes gestures, facial expressions, body language, or sign language.
2.) Low Tech: Doesn’t require a battery. This includes picture symbol books, core vocabulary boards, alphabet boards, and writing.
Who benefits from AAC?
About 2 million people across the lifespan in the United States have a severe communication disorder and would benefit from AAC (ASHA). This would include anyone who 1.) has a developmental disability, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down Syndrome, or Cerebral Palsy; 2.) has an acquired disability, such as brain injury or stroke; 3.) needs supplemented speech, such as those with Childhood Apraxia of Speech or severe speech sound disorder, who are unintelligible or difficult to understand. Watch this video to learn how important communication is for those with ASD.
When and where can you use AAC?
AAC can be used anywhere and anytime! There is no limitation to the time and place it can be used. Use of AAC allows users to use visual information to increase their understanding of an item, action, or situation. Showing a communication page, such as animals or food, can help individuals gain a better understanding of any process and allow them to fully participate in any activity, such as visiting the zoo or cooking.
What are the benefits of using AAC?
Use of AAC can help in many skill areas! It can help increase attention and length of social interactions, initiation of communication, understanding and use of vocabulary, confidence and enjoyment of interactions, and assist in becoming an independent communicator.
Is AAC appropriate for my child & how do I get started?
An initial evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) will help determine if AAC is appropriate. The SLP would assess and compare various AAC systems and devices to determine which mode(s) will allow for the most successful level of communication.
How can I provide my child with adequate access to their system?
Provide access to the AAC system at all times, regardless of activity, behavior, or skill level. Systems and devices should NOT be left in a backpack, on a shelf, or anywhere the individual can’t get to. Here are some access tips:
1.) Model, model, model! Speak while pressing the buttons on the AAC device to provide multimodal communication. Frequent modeling and use of the device will help the user become an effective social communicator.
2.) Respond to all communicative attempts (pointing, vocalizations, sign language, facial expressions, AAC) to create a positive communication environment.
3.) Set up a charging station to ensure the device is fully charged and has a designated location.
4.) Encourage the user to be responsible for carrying and transitioning with the system/device.
5.) Consider cases, stands, or carrying straps for durability and accessibility.
6.) Have a back-up, low-tech AAC system, such as a core board, just in case you have technical difficulties.
7.) Use the system/device for communication only (use guided access)
Myth 1: Using an AAC system will keep my child from talking and they’ll just rely on their device.
Fact: Research shows that providing access to AAC doesn’t negatively impact verbal speech development. In fact, it actually has a positive effect, meaning that many individuals show increased verbal speech after having an accessible AAC system. A research review found that 89% of participants demonstrated an increase in speech production following the introduction of AAC. Use of AAC increases and improves the individual’s participation in conversation and reduces demands and pressure to speak. The production of speech from a Speech Generating Device (SGD) provides a verbal model and association between the word and the symbol.
Myth 2: I should limit the number of words in an AAC system based on the individual’s cognitive abilities.
Fact: It is best practice to presume competence, or assume that the individual is capable of thinking, learning, and growing. Figure out what size button or icon the child responds to best. You can always “hide” vocabulary to make the system less overwhelming at first. This way, buttons/icons won’t move when you want to add/target different vocabulary.
Myth 3: AAC is only for non-speaking individuals.
Fact: AAC can be used for anyone who can’t meet their daily wants and needs with spoken language alone. This includes speaking and non-speaking individuals, such as individuals who are hard to understand.
Myth 4: You must have motor skills to use AAC.
Fact: AAC can be used in a variety of ways and can be modified to accommodate anyone, even those with limited physical abilities! Individuals who can’t physically touch a device can use eye tracking or switch scanning as their primary selection mode.
Myth 5: Behavioral issues must be addressed before introducing an AAC system.
Fact: Oftentimes, behavioral issues are caused by the lack of effective and functional communication. When given the tools, such as an AAC system to communicate, those behaviors often improve!
Myth 6: My child is too young to use AAC.
Fact: You can never be too young to benefit from AAC. It has positive impacts on language development, cognition, literacy skills, participation in social, play, and academic activities. Research has proven that a child does not need any prerequisite or specific skills to use AAC.
For more information about AAC or to discuss how our team can provide services for your child, please don’t hesitate to book an initial evaluation.
Kayleigh Ash, M.S., CCC-SLP
Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist