The Mysteries of AAC
AAC and What is it:
When thinking of communication, the first thing many will think of is “talking” or spoken words. Think of the last conversation you had, did you solely rely on talking or what you heard, or did you use your other senses, such as what you saw (e.g. body language or facial expressions)? Communication goes far beyond spoken language and many individuals rely on alternative forms to communicate throughout their day. These forms may include gestures, pictures, or a high tech device to communicate. This is called augmentative alternative communication (AAC), or alternative forms of communication beyond spoken words. AAC can take many forms, from no tech (e.g. use of one’s body, some sign vocabulary and gestures), to high tech (e.g. use of an ipad or dedicated speech generating device). One form of AAC that is regularly incorporated into the beginning stages of speech development is pictures. This may be in the form of a choice board, pictures of daily tasks (e.g. bathroom or meal), or use of pictures to request following a specific curriculum (e.g. Picture Exchange Communication System). As Speech-Language Pathologists, we are specialized in not only targeting spoken language but incorporating AAC if this is the best course of action for the child.
Won’t AAC prevent my child from talking?
There are many myths that surround the use of AAC and spoken language development, but the big one and one that you might be asking right now is “Will AAC prevent my child from talking?”. The answer is no, in fact research shows that AAC can actually enhance acquisition of spoken language! AAC will not only provide a mode for your child to communicate functionally but will also provide a different modality for acquiring new words through a visual representation rather than just auditory. The effects of implementing AAC goes beyond just communication of wants and needs. Research indicates that implementation of AAC can support comprehension, turn taking and provide concrete representation for initiation of communication and commenting in conversation. AAC can increase joint engagement between the child and communication partners and provide a bridge between connecting with others to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and feelings. AAC goes beyond our auditory sense to communicate and understand language: it includes both tactile and visual modalities as well. When thinking about learning styles, some may be visual learners, auditory learners, or kinesthetic learners. Think of AAC as a mode to incorporate a different form of language to best fit the individual child’s learning style. AAC can be the bridge to facilitate a functional way for the child to understand and communicate about the world around them.
Who may benefit or use AAC?
Anyone can be a good candidate for AAC. In fact, there are no prerequisite skills a child needs before introduction to AAC. AAC is a common form of communication for individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, late talkers, apraxia, cognitive impairments, TBI, physical disabilities, stroke, cancer or degenerative diseases. This list is by no means exhaustive and these diagnoses are not necessary in order to incorporate AAC. In short, AAC can be used by just about anyone who is having difficulty communicating with words and might be a good choice for your child. Everyone deserves a voice no matter what form of communication.
What other questions might you have about AAC and your child’s communication? We are happy to answer any questions you may have!
- Maddie Ueland M.S. CCC-SLP
References: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2021). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/.
Smith, A. L., Barton-Hulsey, A., & Nwosu, N. (2016). AAC and Families: Dispelling Myths and Empowering Parents. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 1(12), 10–20. https://doi.org/10.1044/persp1.sig12.10 Romski, M. A., & Sevcik, R. A. (2005).
Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention. Infants & Young Children, 18(3), 174–185. https://doi.org/10.1097/00001163-200507000-00002 Zangari, C., & *, N. (2015, February 25).
The 'Real' Pre-requisites to AAC Device Use. PrAACtical AAC. https://praacticalaac.org/praactical/the-real-pre-requisites-to-aac-device-use/.