Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a way for a child to communicate when the child does not have the ability to use speech as a primary means of communication. AAC can be high-tech, such as a speech-generating device that is programmed to talk for the child. AAC can also be low-tech by using simple pictures, sign language, or a device that plays recorded messages.

Children can use AAC for a short time while speech skills are developing, or for their entire life.

The ability to communicate with others is a precious commodity that many of us take for granted. For children with disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy, the inability to express themselves verbally to their families, peers and caretakers can result in frustration, decreased social participation and inappropriate behavioral patterns. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to ways, other than spontaneous verbal language, that are used to communicate.

Training a child using AAC system is often used in conjunction with speech-language therapy to support language development. Therapy is generally required with children because the challenges they face with verbally expressing themselves often impacts long-term language development and relationship building.  At Advanced Therapy Clinic our Speech and Language Team provides many supports to parents and children to help get them started with an AAC. The process includes individual consultations, comprehensive assessments, and support and practice using the device through therapy and social groups.

Benefits

AAC can help children to improve their ability to interact with others and communicate at home, in school, and in the community. It can help your child to participate in school and become more independent. Using AAC can also decrease inappropriate behaviors, such as tantrums, crying and whining. These behaviors are often due to the child’s difficulty and frustration with their inability to communicate and express themselves.

Common Concerns for Parents

Many parents are concerned that using an AAC system will prevent their child from developing speech. AAC does NOT interfere with the development of oral speech skills. In fact, AAC can actually help with the development of oral speech. It can give a child a chance to communicate independently and gain confidence and reduce frustration.

Current research states that AAC stimulates the development of oral speech by giving the child more opportunities to participate in communication and hear the correct production of sounds. AAC also helps the development of language because it often combines a picture with a word. This helps the child understand what the word means. It also helps the child expressively by using longer, more complex sentences, and it also can teach the child to use correct grammatical structures. Finally, AAC takes the pressure of speaking off children who have trouble with the physical demands of speech production. 

Children know that speech is a faster and better form of communication. Therefore, the child will begin to use speech instead of AAC when he or she develops the required oral-motor skills for speech.

How Parents Can Help

The purpose of AAC is to teach the child another way to communicate. Just as adults provide models of speech that help their children learn to talk, parents also need to provide models when the child is learning to use AAC. Parents may be asked to use the pictures, communication book, or speaking device themselves to help the child learn. This is called aided language stimulation.

Parents may also need to learn how to program a high-tech communication device. As with learning any new skill, frequent practice between therapy sessions is important so the child is able to use AAC in everyday communication. The parents and SLP may identify specific times for the family to work with the child at home.

How do I determine the best AAC device for my child?

In order to best match a child's needs to a proper AAC device, it is imperative that a Speech Language Pathologist with AAC knowledge is available to make the appropriate recommendation. Keep in mind that not all speech therapist specialize in AAC assessments. At Advanced Therapy Clinic, we have a team of Speech therapist who specialize in AAC implementation.  Also, Some AAC’s can be very expensive devices and require a specialized comprehensive report to get insurance to cover devices. While other devices are minimal and can be implemented with very little cost. Our Speech team at Advanced therapy can help assess, pick the right device, get coverage, and help implement the device for your child.
Communication is critical for all children, and should be available no matter the disability or delay. Please call with any questions.