November 23, 2021

What You Should Know About Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) utilizes aided and unaided forms of communication such as signs, picture support, and high-tech communication devices to help people who are unable to or cannot yet communicate with verbal language. Lumiere Children’s Therapy can help you and your child improve functional communication through the use of AAC.

Key takeaways: 

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a term that encompasses all the ways someone can communicate besides verbal speech.
  • There are two types of AAC – aided and unaided.
  • Unaided AAC refers to “talking” (i.e. communicating) via facial expressions, body language, gestures, and signs.
  • Aided AAC refers to communication that is assisted by a device. It may be written, drawn, or uses cards with pictures.
  • Aided AAC can use a broad range of technologies that include no-tech, low-tech, mid-tech, and high-tech options.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC for short, is a broad term that describes all of the ways someone can communicate without using spoken words. AAC can be used by people of any age that have challenges with speech or language. These challenges may be due to developmental delays, conditions like mutism, or short-term conditions, such as having surgery or developing an illness/injury, that affect one’s ability to speak.

Augmentative communication means adding to someone’s speech, while alternative communication refers to ways of talking besides using speech, such as using signs. We will discuss AAC in more detail below and talk about who can benefit from it. We can also offer help for those who need AAC as Lumiere Children’s Therapy’s certified therapists specialize in AAC methods, technology, and evaluations.

Who benefits from AAC?

Research shows that people of all ages who need support to communicate can benefit from AAC – even children younger than three years old. There are no prerequisites, test scores, or other milestones that need to be reached before AAC can be employed. Various types of AAC exist to help individuals with communication disorders to communicate effectively and efficiently with people. The benefits of AAC include:

  • Facilitating independence
  • Participating in treatment teams
  • Participating in medical decision-making
  • Being able to have a robust social life

Access to AAC allows children and adults to live life with dignity. It allows them an outlet to express their wants and needs, as well as share their ideas independently. Limited verbal speech shouldn’t hold anyone back from communicating.

The types of AAC

There are two main types of AAC – unaided and aided.

  • Unaided AAC is communication that occurs solely using the body, such as facial expressions, body language, gestures, and signs.
  • Aided AAC requires the assistance of an outside device. Devices can be as simple as a pencil to write a message on a piece of paper or cards with pictures on them to point to or physically exchange. Communication may also be assisted using more technologically-advanced modalities including a power source, such as a speech-generating device.

There is a diverse range of ways to communicate using unaided and/or aided AAC. Using either form will depend on the person and their needs. Both forms may also be used at once to support successful, multimodal communication.

Technology and AAC

AAC can use technology at different levels. There are technologically advanced options and options that are low-tech, mid-tech, or don’t rely on any form of technology at all, also called “no-tech” options. Some examples of no-tech and low-tech options include:

  • Writing
  • Drawing
  • Gestures and facial expressions
  • Pointing at/exchanging photos, pictures, or written words
  • Spelling words by pointing at letters

Chances are, you’re already skilled at using some of these options with your child, such as correctly interpreting when your child points at a snack they’d like to have.

Mid-technology options are also available. These include things like:

  • Recorded speech on a battery-operated device.
  • Single-button devices like the BIGmack that speaks single, pre-programmed messages.
  • Single overlay displays, such as GoTalks, which contain a limited number of pre-programmed messages.

High-tech options that use technology to assist in communication include:

  • Using a computer with a voice, sometimes called a speech-generating device
  • Using an app on an iPad or tablet to communicate

There are many ways to communicate. People may use a combination of different types of AAC to communicate effectively. An AAC system refers to all of the communication tools an individual uses to convey words with meaning.

Will using AAC hinder my child’s communication?

The short answer: No, quite the opposite actually! Many parents wonder if providing their child access to AAC will have adverse effects on language development. Research has shown that’s not the case at all. In fact,  AAC has actually been found to potentially support speech production. It can also be used to help participants learn how to read and write.

While goals for verbal speech remain, AAC provides individuals the resources to communicate their wants and needs that they otherwise are unable to convey.

Get support from a qualified speech therapist in the Chicago, IL area

Having a child who is struggling with communication or who cannot verbally communicate can be challenging. Lumiere offers certified therapists who specialize in AAC methods, technology, and evaluations, and ongoing training in speech therapy. A Lumiere therapist can evaluate and discern your child’s specific needs and help you determine what method(s) of AAC would currently be the most effective. Our therapists also monitor changes throughout your child’s growth. If your family is considering using a high-tech device, Lumiere Children’s Therapy also provides evaluations and assists with submitting funding requests to insurance to help facilitate the process of purchasing one through insurance.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy also provides a host of other pediatric therapies to help children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions achieve traditional childhood milestones.

Our services include:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Social work
  • Early intervention
  • AAC
  • Teletherapy
  • ABA Therapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago. We focus on providing services catered to the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Call us today if you are interested in AAC or any of our other services.

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