Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to communication methods that help or replace speaking or writing for individuals who struggle to production or comprehend spoken or written language.

Who Benefits from Augmentative and Alternative Communication?
Any child having difficulty communicating or being understood may benefit in some way from AAC strategies. Children with cerebral palsy, autism, developmental disabilities, or rare genetic syndromes can be supported in their communication and learning through AAC.

It is your right as a parent to ask your child’s teachers for an evaluation or if and how your child can benefit from AAC. Through your local school district, a team of professionals will work closely with you to help determine if your child is a good candidate for AAC services, and they will provide guidance about using AAC at home, school, and the community.

When to Begin Augmentative and Alternative Communication
It is important to begin AAC as early as possible. Even if your child is already receiving speech and language therapy, he can still benefit from AAC services. Remember the goal of AAC is to help your child begin communicating with you. It is important to know that even though a child may begin to use pictures to tell you what he wants or a computer that can produce speech, it does not stop him from learning to speak. In fact, research has found that when a child begins learning to tell someone what he needs or want, it is easier to work on his speech sounds and to expand his ability to communicate.

How to Get an AAC Evaluation
A good place to start is with your school district. Let them know your child has difficulty communicating. If your child is already receiving speech and language therapy, then talk to your speech/language pathologist. Let him or her know that you are interested in learning more about AAC and that you want your child to have an AAC evaluation. The school district should have an Assistive Technology Team that will complete the evaluation or help you find someone qualified to do so.

Another place to look is at a local college or university program that provides speech and language therapy services. Many times these facilities provide AAC evaluations, or can help you find someone who is qualified to complete the evaluation.

The key is to remember that there are many options available to help your child communicate. The federal government revised the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 and again in 2004 to make sure that all children are provided with the support they need to learn best in the classroom. That means if there is an AAC device or strategy that will allow your child to be a more active learner in the classroom, then the educational team must provide that device or service to your child.

Every child has a right to communicate, and there are many different ways in which children communicate their thoughts and needs. Whether it is through speech, gestures, sign language, pictures, or a voice output communication system, the important thing is that your child can begin communicating and learning.

How to Use AAC Successfully

  • Ask for training
  • Family members, caregivers, and school staff should be trained on how best to support your child’s use of AAC. Training should be done by a person who is knowledgeable in AAC. Effective training will:

    • show you how to use AAC with your child
    • help you choose appropriate vocabulary fo your child
    • teach you to program and operate your child’s communication device
  • Model the use of AAC.
  • If your child is expected to use AAC to communicate, then it is important that you and other adults model using the AAC system.

  • Take time to listen and communicate.
  • Communicating with a child using AAC may be a slow process. It may take time for your child to formulate and express his ideas. It is very important for you wait patiently for your child to think about what he has to say and to communicate his ideas to you.

  • Encourage your child to use multiple ways of communicating.
  • A child will naturally want to use the quickest way to communicate. For example, a child would rather shake his head yes or no then go to his communication board to say “yes” or “no”. Frustration can set in if adults tell children to use their device when gestures or other simple strategies can be used. Encourage your child to use multi-modal communication.

  • Teach your child to initiate conversations.
  • Often times children who use AAC respond to adult questions but do not begin conversations with other children or adults. You can help your child by teaching her to use language effectively such as saying “hello” or “goodbye,” requesting attention or objects, or communicating “more”, “no” or “finished.”