What is AAC?

AAC stands for “Augmentative / Alternative Communication.” AAC is an umbrella term for any systh3, method, or device used for communication. A communication systh3 can “augment” existing speech (no matter how much or little), or can be used as an “alternative” form of communication when there is no verbal speech.

Who can use it?

Many children benefit from AAC. Children with autism, apraxia, Down Syndrome or other syndromes, developmental delay, chromosomal abnormality, cerebral palsy, and a variety of other conditions often use some form of AAC.

Why is it so important?

When children can’t speak or are unintelligible, AAC allows thh3 to communicate in a way that is universal, effective, and efficient, lessening everyone’s frustration and aiding language development. If the child goes on to develop speech, AAC can facilitate speech development and language skills. If the child does not develop verbal communication he or she has a systh3 in place to communicate basic as well as complex messages.

What does AAC look like?

AAC can be no-tech, low-tech, mid-tech, or high-tech. AAC methods such as sign language gestures require no technology. Systh3s such as picture boards, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Systh3), and communication books are low-tech methods. Voice output devices that have static (unchanging) displays and require recorded human speech are mid-tech devices. Speech-generating devices that resh3ble computers, use digitized or synthesized speech, access an extrh3ely large vocabulary, and have dynamic (changing) displays are high-tech examples of AAC.

How do I know what will work for my child?

At CTS, we can evaluate your child’s needs and have him or her try out various systh3s with a trained therapist. The therapist will identify key features to include in an AAC systh3 for your child, and match your child’s needs, strengths, and abilities with a systh3 that is right for him or her.

Myths about AAC:

– AAC is a last resort. Fact: Intervention should begin as soon as possible. The U.S. National Research Council Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism states that evidence-based intervention should include targeting functional, spontaneous communication that includes speech and/or AAC. The research shows that children’s speech and language development is facilitated by AAC intervention – so the surest way to prevent delay or failure to develop language skills, or to provide someone with the power to communicate, is to give them access to AAC, for exposure to language and thus the ability to learn it.

– AAC is used when speech therapists have given up on verbal speech. Fact: While some children may not develop fluent speech and will need to use speech-generating devices to speak, many children will become verbal and will need AAC as a “bridge” as they learn vocabulary, syntax, turn-taking, and how to synthesize their thoughts.

– A child with some (limited) speech doesn’t need AAC. Fact: AAC can facilitate generative speech in addition to assisting children with transitioning between environments, tasks, and other challenges.

– A child with cognitive impairment cannot use AAC. Fact: Children with significant cognitive disabilities can learn and benefit from AAC.  You’re never too anything to use AAC – you just need the right system.

– There is a hierarchy of AAC: A child must use low-tech methods before using a high-tech speech-generating device. Fact: AAC is not taught or learned on a continuum. Low-tech has its place – many therapists and families will use low-tech methods such as Pixon pictures to teach language concepts, then transition to teaching those concepts on the child’s device even though the child has been using the device for a while. Single-sheet communication boards are beneficial when a device needs to be repaired, when the battery dies or there is nowhere to plug in the device, when the child is at the beach or pool – so even sophisticated device users will use low-tech systems.

– A young child cannot use AAC. Fact: Young typically developing toddlers use gestures to communicate, and significant research has shown that development of gestures speeds language acquisition. Gestures, sign language, and vocalizations are all “unaided AAC” systems as well as forms of pre-symbolic communication important in acquiring symbolic communication. AAC isn’t just graphic symbols, switches, and devices.

– A child with an ability to express basic needs does not need AAC. Fact: We want children of varying emotional, physical, and cognitive abilities to participate in society; if we lower our expectations to just the request of basic needs then we will fail them as potential social participants.  There is more to communication than asking for something to eat or drink and to use the toilet. Gail Van Tatenhove talks about communication where you are “talking to answer someone’s question” and communication where you are “talking to talk,” and that we need to teach children who use AAC communication to “talk to talk.”

How do I get an evaluation for my child?

Call CTS at 630-444-0077 to speak to a therapist if you have questions, or to speak to the client support specialist to schedule an evaluation.