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What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication and how does it help?

An Augmentative and Alternative Communication device is any tool that is used in order to help supplement and assist a person in their ability to express themselves. Everyone in this day and age regardless of their ability to communicate uses such devices. Texting is a type of communication device! Texting helps augment and assist our ability to express ourselves to family and friends when we are not able to communicate in person or by phone.

Many children find themselves in need of communication devices. Who uses these devices? Do they keep children from speaking? Don’t only severely disabled children use devices? To best answer these questions, it is important to understand what Alternative and Augmentative Communication is.

What types of Augmentative and Alternative Communication are available?

-Unaided AAC includes gestures (pointing to what we want), sign language, and body language (moving away to show you’re done with a conversation). These are all forms of unaided AAC, which allow us to communicate information without the need for words.

-Aided AAC includes all forms of tools which assist our communication without the need for words.

– Low tech/no tech AAC includes paper and pencil, picture cards, and visual schedules with pictures. It’s anything we may use or ask another to use to communicate in order to assist with clarifying our message, or take place of verbal speech.

-Mid tech AAC includes but is not limited to texting, emailing, and emoticons. For younger children, or those who do not have the ability to read, there are also specialized devices that combine picture cards with a recordable device. Such examples are a Go Talk 9 or button switches. These are recordable, and allow for vocabulary to be changed over time. Parents or individuals are required to manually change picture cards to match the situation.

-High tech AAC allows for the greatest independence for communication. They are computerized devices with an automatic speech output (also known as speech generating devices). These are computers that range in size (from cell phone size to 17 inches). The devices have pre-programmed words, or sentences, which communicate in place of a person’s voice.

For those individuals who have difficulty in being able to communicate clearly and effectively with others, communication devices can open up a whole new world. Imagine going through a day either without speaking to anyone, or imagine being near your loved ones and not being able to tell them “I love you.”

Important links: Saltillo Company and Prentke Romich.

Who does Augmentative and Alternative Communication help?

Most people have not heard of AAC before. However, it is possible that if AAC had been used, it would usually be seen assisting someone with profound disabilities. Stephen Hawking may possibly be the best known user of an AAC. Although it is used for children and adults with disabilities, the technology is not limited to these populations. AAC devices not only help those without the physical ability to speak, but can also help those who have limited speech capabilities.

There are people who may be able to use language in a limited capacity. For example some children can verbally use 1-2 words at a time, but do not have the energy or physical ability to go beyond that. Other children may have varied abilities due to seizures. In one instance they may speak a whole sentence, and in another they may only use a few words. For these children AAC devices allow them to augment their speech so they can express themselves fully.

Aside from children with disabilities who have varying or limited language capabilities, there are also children who aren’t able to articulate well. These children are ones who do speak complete sentences, but few people can understand them. Intelligibility in these children is minimal for various reasons. In some cases they mispronounce words or speak too quickly and bunch their words together.   In order to minimize frustration at home, and allow them to interact sociably at school AAC devices can assist in clarifying what they are trying to say. These devices can also allow teachers to realize the full potential of a child’s academic abilities as they are now able to express what they are learning.

Some children may be considered “late talkers.” Parents may have had siblings or cousins who were late talkers, but once they began speaking didn’t have any issues. AAC can be used with these families as late talkers lose out in developmental opportunities, including interacting with peers, or telling on their brothers and sisters. These may seem like minor details, but imagine your frustration of not being able to voice your opinion, or complain about the weather? These devices can ensure a child continues to be able to interact socially even if their words and sounds are not set yet.

If a child has an AAC device does that mean they’ll never talk? 

One of the concerns parents bring up is their fear about a child preferring the device over verbal speech. Although AAC is advantageous in being able to express a wide breadth of ideas, it does not replace the efficiency of speech. When you’re texting, do you avoid calling someone on the phone? The ability to convey information verbally will always be more efficient than by use of a device. Even the most complex and sophisticated devices take time to formulate a message and have the machine read it out. If the child is able to say it, this will happen first.

AAC devices can also help children become verbal. Many times AAC is used as a tool to support verbal abilities. Children can sit and study the device. As a computer the device’s speech output is automatic, so many children can either learn new words, or can learn to say words more clearly with consistent use and practice.

How do I know if an Augmentative and Alternative Communication  is right for my child?

A speech language pathologist who is knowledgeable about AAC devices will be able to guide you through an evaluation process. They will be able to assess the child’s current language abilities and needs to determine if a device would be appropriate. They will look at factors such as age, verbal abilities, and motivation to communicate. Once it’s been determined an AAC device would be appropriate, then several different kinds will be trialed. The speech language pathologist and the family together will decide which AAC is best.

Questions about Augmentative and Alternative Communication ? Ask a speech-language pathologist for clarification.

Speech language pathologists are specialized in speech and language development. AAC devices are simply a tool to assist in guiding children to improve in these areas. There are many ways we communicate to emphasize what we say and make sure that we’re heard, a speech language pathologist will ensure your child finds their voice and are heard as well.