Is AAC Necessary for Us?

What are the communication options for individuals who cannot depend on speech? Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) could provide solutions. On this page, discover who might find AAC beneficial and when it’s appropriate to begin.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) encompasses a range of devices, systems, techniques, and aids that either substitute or enhance natural speech. These resources are designed to assist individuals facing speech challenges.

How do we determine the need for AAC? When is the right time to introduce AAC? What’s the most effective way to assess whether alternative communication tools and strategies would be advantageous for the individual?

Who uses AAC?

AAC is available to everyone, irrespective of age or background. Individuals facing speech limitations for various reasons can find AAC beneficial. There is a broad spectrum of causes, disorders, and disabilities that can hinder a person’s ability to speak. These challenges may stem from developmental disabilities, acquired disorders, or medical conditions that affect speech. Additionally, some individuals might experience speech deterioration due to high levels of stress, anxiety, or a medical emergency, leading to temporary or long-term speech impairment.

The use of AAC can begin at any age, and there are no age restrictions for starting this form of communication support. It is essential to understand that AAC is not limited to a particular age group and should be considered as a valuable option throughout one’s life. Furthermore, once an individual has started using AAC, it may not be a lifelong or full-time commitment.

AAC might be recommended in the following situations:

  • During the development of speech
  • To enhance the comprehensibility of speech
  • When speech hasn’t developed
  • In cases of speech loss or deterioration
  • When speech is temporarily unavailable
  • When speech is intermittent or unreliable

It’s important to note that a person’s need for AAC cannot always be determined solely based on their diagnosis. Whether someone with autism or someone who has had a stroke requires AAC will vary from one individual to another. Each case should be assessed individually to determine the most appropriate communication support.

Even if an individual can communicate verbally to some extent, there may still be significant benefits to using AAC. Offering an AAC system to someone with limited or unclear speech can significantly expand their vocabulary and language capabilities. This means they can potentially convey a wider range of messages and ideas compared to relying on speech alone.

Choosing an AAC

When it comes to selecting an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) system, the decision is influenced by various factors. These include physical accessibility, sensory requirements, language and literacy proficiency, and the support available in the individual’s environment, among others.

While having a definitive test that prescribes the ideal AAC system would be convenient, it’s not always feasible. Many individuals who rely on AAC may face challenges in taking tests or assessments related to speech, language, or literacy skills. Furthermore, even when testing is feasible, the intricate interplay of these factors makes it difficult to pinpoint the perfect “AAC match.” Therefore, the selection of an AAC system typically requires a more personalized approach that considers the unique needs and abilities of the individual.

The most effective approach to selecting the right AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) system is through a process known as “dynamic assessment.” This method involves the following steps:

  1. Observing how the individual currently conveys various messages in different environments and during different activities.
  2. Assessing their informal communication behaviors.
  3. Examining their communication partners and the level of support they provide to the individual.

Subsequently, one or more AAC systems or approaches that are considered potential matches are introduced and evaluated. This observation process assists in making an informed decision about which AAC system or approach is the most suitable recommendation.

It’s important to note that dynamic assessment is most effective when conducted with the assistance of a professional who has experience in AAC.

No prerequisite skills

In the AAC assessment process, there may be mentions of “prerequisite skills” that were believed to be necessary before starting AAC. This concept of “prerequisite skills” originated in the 1980s when the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) first acknowledged AAC as an area of practice. However, it’s essential to understand that the perspective on this has evolved over time due to changing research and insights.

Today, we recognize that there are no prerequisite skills required to begin using AAC. In fact, anyone who cannot rely on speech to meet their communication needs can benefit from some form of AAC. There is no need for individuals to prove themselves before they can access AAC solutions.

Get Help in Teaching Communication

Speech-Language Pathologists or Therapists typically receive training in AAC, but the level of training and experience can vary among professionals. While they can provide speech therapy to support AAC use, not all of them may have the same level of expertise in this field. In schools and healthcare settings, various support staff, including teachers, therapists, nurses, and social workers, may have differing levels of experience with AAC users.

Working in the area of AAC provides valuable knowledge and insights. When seeking support for AAC, it’s essential to consult a professional who has specific experience in this field. Additionally, you can find online communities with experienced families and professionals who offer advice and support.

What AAC do you need?

AAC encompasses all the tools and strategies available for individuals who are unable to speak. The choice between unaided and aided forms of AAC depends on the potential AAC user’s preferences and needs.

  1. Unaided AAC: This includes forms like gestures, facial expressions, and sign language. Some individuals may prefer and benefit from these methods.
  2. Aided AAC: This involves tools such as choice cards, symbol boards, or high-tech devices like speech-generating devices, communication apps on tablets, and more. Some individuals may find aided AAC systems more suitable.

A potential AAC user may also opt for either text-based or symbol-based AAC systems based on their abilities and communication requirements.

  • Text-Based AAC: This is ideal for those who can type to communicate. Proloquo4Text is an example of a text-based AAC system.
  • Symbol-Based AAC: Many individuals, including those who cannot read or spell, may require symbols or pictures for communication. In such cases, symbol-based AAC systems that use photos, pictures, or symbols, like Proloquo2Go and simPODD, are available.

The choice of AAC system should align with the individual’s communication abilities and preferences.Top of Form

Can AAC help?

AAC can provide substantial benefits to anyone who faces challenges in effectively communicating through verbal speech alone. To determine whether AAC is appropriate, consider the following questions:

  1. Is the person capable of speaking, but their speech is often not understood by others?
  2. Does the person experience frustration when their verbal speech is not comprehended by those they are communicating with?
  3. Does the person have many thoughts and ideas that they struggle to convey using speech?
  4. Do they exhibit variations or fluctuations in their ability to use speech effectively?
  5. What alternative communication methods and tools are available to them?
  6. Can they learn to request, comment, express opinions, ask questions, share stories, and engage in conversations through AAC?
  7. Does the person encounter difficulties with receptive language? Could a visual communication model assist in improving their receptive language skills?

By addressing these questions, you can assess how AAC might be beneficial for the individual and whether it can enhance their communication abilities.