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Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Article Written By: Dana Hopkins, Speech-Language Pathologist

You’ve likely seen someone write a note to a friend or use a gesture to convey a message across the room. Maybe you have seen someone use pictures or a speech-output device to share their message. These are all forms of Augmentative and Alternative communication (AAC).


Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes various methods of communication that support or replace verbal speech for communication. AAC tools are used to make a person’s verbal message clearer (e.g. writing down key words) or allow a person to communicate using methods other than speech (e.g. signs, gestures, pictures). AAC is used by people of all ages, including children who are just beginning to speak and older adults who have experienced a stroke.


There are two different forms of AAC:

Unaided

Unaided forms of AAC make use of the body and can include using facial expressions, gestures, vocalizations, body language and signs.


Aided

Aided forms of AAC take are external tools or devices. They can be low-tech or high tech. Examples of low-tech forms of AAC are things like picture symbols, communication boards/books or writing with a pen and paper. Examples of high-tech forms of AAC utilize technology like iPads or speech generating devices.


Does using AAC stop a child from using speech to communicate?


Many parents are concerned that introducing AAC tools will stop their child from learning to use verbal speech, but this is not the case. In fact, the use of AAC has been found to support the development of spoken communication (Romski, 2005). Using gestures, signs, and other AAC tools provides the child with a way to express their thoughts and ideas while still be exposed to verbal speech. In order for children to develop functional language and communication skills, they must be able to participate in the back and forth turning taking of conversation. AAC tools allow children to do this while their verbal speech skills are developing. AAC tools allow children to develop their understanding and use of language, which are essential for all forms of communication. AAC tools act as a bridge between early communication attempts and later forms of communication. Experience has shown that once a child is able to easily communicate using other means, such as verbal speech, they will naturally reduce the amount of gestures and signs that they use. This supports that using AAC will not stop a child from using speech, but in fact provides them the tools to further develop their communication skills.


AAC Tools Help Children to:

- Communicate their wants, thoughts, and desires

- Gain independence

- Gain confidence as a communicator

- Ask questions to learn about the world around them

- Decrease frustration

- Decrease undesired means of communication such as hitting and screaming

- Develop and maintain richer and more varied social interactions with family, peers, teachers, etc


At Empower Communication Services we are committed to helping children communicate to the best of their abilities, and AAC tools can be very helpful in reaching this goal.



References:

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), American Speech-Language- Hearing Association (https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/)


Romski, M. (2005). Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention: Myths and Realities. Infant and Young Children, 18 (3), 174-185.

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