One of the most memorable moments of parenthood is their baby’s first word. It is the sheer excitement of understanding what a baby is thinking after a full year into this world! Some infants and toddlers face communication challenges that delay or inhibit speaking due to neuromotor, cognitive, genetic, sensory, social/communicative and other disabilities. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices can give parents the same, if not more, of an unforgettable moment when their child communicates with them for the first time. Whether a child communicates through signing, gesturing, or a computer device, being able to understand what they need and want is vital for parents.
What is AAC?
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is an intervention approach that uses unaided and aided devices to assistance the infant or child in communication with others.
• Unaided devices, no tech: Communication devices that do not involve additional equipment. Gestures, manual sign language, and use of facial expressions are all examples of unaided devices.
• Low-tech: Devices that do not need a battery to function but involve additional equipment. A popular low-tech option is a communication board with pictures. Other examples include books with pictures, photos and symbols, or objects representing a concept.
• High tech, aided communication: High tech requires a power source or battery. Most of high tech devices produce a voice or text to communicate. These include computers, tablets, and mobile devices.
Early Intervention with AAC
Current research suggests that the earlier AAC devices are incorporated into therapy, the greater potential is for improving outcome. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C mandates that, if necessary, infants and toddlers with a disability use assistive technology devices and services. AAC devices have shown to be productive in children as early as 12 months. Determining the appropriate AAC device for a child depends on the child’s motor, sensory, cognitive, linguistic, and social abilities. A team approach (speech therapist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist) is usually involved in the selection of AAC device. There is no one-size-fits-all AAC system, as it is based on the child’s individual needs. Often times, multiples modes of AAC devices and strategies are used to help develop communication, language, and cognitive skills.
Common concerns of AAC devices
One of the most prominent concerns families have with using an AAC device is limiting spoken language. They are fearful that their child will become dependent on the AAC device and lose motivation to talk. Research suggests quite the opposite. AAC devices enhance the development of spoken communication in young children. AAC devices should be used simultaneously with verbal words, so children can associate spoken and visual symbols with the concepts. The myth that AAC devices are a “last resort” for therapy has also been proven wrong through current research. AAC devices are not contingent on the child’s disability to develop verbal speech skills. As described before, it is critical that AAC devices are introduced before communication breakdowns occur. AAC devices are a great supplement to incorporate language and verbal speech.
Incorporating AAC at home:
As with most therapy, families need to incorporate goals into everyday life in order to see growth. AAC strategies should carry-over into daily routines such as mealtime, bath time, play, daycare, etc. Focus on a few familiar words when first starting to use AAC device. As your child becomes more comfortable, incorporate more vocabulary specific to the needs of the child and family. Lastly, all family members should model the AAC strategies while communicating with your child. Your child will stay more consistent with their expected output language if they notice other family members using it, as well. For example, if your child uses sign language to communicate, the caregiver should use sign and spoken language when talking. If your child uses a picture system, incorporate the pictures into your conversations while speaking.
If you are interested in learning more about potential AAC devices for your child, contact Lumiere Children’s Therapy today!
Davidoff , B. E. (207, January). AAC with Energy- Earlier . The ASHA Leader , 49-53.
Romski, M., PhD CCC-SLP, & Sevcik, R. A., PhD. (n.d.). Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention Myths and Realities. Infants & Young Children , 18 (3), 174-185.
What is AAC? (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://www.communicationmatters.org.uk/page/what-is-aac