Augmentative Alternative Communication AAC

speech 09 tnWhat is AAC?

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols, emojis or pictures, or write.

People with severe speech or language problems rely on AAC to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional. Special augmentative aids, such as picture and symbol communication boards and electronic devices, are available to help people express themselves. This may increase social interaction, school performance, and feelings of self-worth.

AAC users should not stop using speech if they are able to do so. The AAC aids and devices are used to enhance their communication.

What are the types of AAC systems?

When children or adults cannot use speech to communicate effectively in all situations, there are options.

Unaided communication systems – rely on the user's body to convey messages. Examples include gestures, body language, and/or sign language.

Aided communication systems – require the use of tools or equipment in addition to the user's body. Aided communication methods can range from paper and pencil to communication books or boards to devices that produce voice output (speech generating devices or SGD's)and/or written output. Electronic communication aids allow the user to use picture symbols, letters, and/or words and phrases to create messages. Some devices can be programmed to produce different spoken languages.

The comprehensive AAC assessment

To determine the best AAC system for a child, it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive AAC assessment. This assessment needs to cover both characteristics of the child as well as the potential advantages and obstacles that exist in the environment. Ideally, it results in:

  • Deciding which of the child’s current methods of communicating should be maintained and/or developed further.
  • Selecting new methods of communication, and determining the best way to implement them.
  • Making changes and adaptations in the environment and in the way people interact with the child.

At the core of this assessment are four basic questions:

  • What are the child’s communication needs or goals?
  • What are the child’s strengths and abilities?
  • What barriers are preventing the child from achieving his or her full communication/participation potential?
  • The next question follows from the answers to the previous three.
  • What aids and adaptations (e.g. AAC devices or systems, environmental modifications, policy changes, etc.) will best accomplish the child’s goals given his or her strengths and abilities, and current circumstances?

There is no strict order to these questions. In fact, each of them should be asked on a continual basis since, as the child grows and develops, the child’s needs and abilities, and the settings in which he or she functions will change. In addition, no single AAC device will necessarily be able to accomplish all of the child’s needs in all situations. An AAC system should, therefore, be multimodal, that is comprised of a number of different types of communication methods, each of which is used in different situations.

The assessment should be made up of information collected in a variety of ways. Included may be interviews with the persons who know the child best, observations of the child in natural settings, formal testing to obtain specific information or to fill in the gaps, and trial periods with actual AAC devices and systems to see how well they suit the child. It is important to make sure that the child is comfortable and not overtaxed during the assessment, otherwise the child may fall short of his or her true abilities. This means keeping assessment periods short, having parents or other familiar persons present and assisting, making everything as fun and interesting as possible, and honoring the child’s need to take breaks or end sessions (Mirenda & Iacono, 1990).

Information provided from YAACK


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