Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Fact Sheet & Myth Buster

by Ani Soghomonian & Bridget M. Coady, MA CCC-SLP

As a speech-language pathologist in the preschool setting, I often use pictures, devices, and language boards to help children communicate and learn language. These are known as “augmentative and alternative communication” (AAC) methods. AAC can teach language vocabulary and structure, and enhance the communication of children with special needs. Sometimes, parents express concern that these visual supports and communication devices will hinder or replace their child’s natural verbal speech. This is not true. “Are we giving up on their verbal speech?” parents ask. “But I want my child to talk,” they say. In order to address these concerns, I recently created a handout in collaboration with a speech-language pathology graduate student who worked with me at Easter Seals. The graduate student researched articles on AAC and its impact on speech and language development. Together, we translated the research into easily understandable terms. The end result was a parent-friendly, research-based fact sheet about AAC.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Fact Sheet & Myth Buster
“Communication is the essence of human life” -Janice Light (1997)

 1)What is AAC?

  • A way to enhance the communication of people who have significant speech and language impairments (Light, Binger, Agate, & Ramsay, 1999)
  • AAC can have positive benefits for natural speech production—using AAC intervention will NOT inhibit the production of speech
  • A way to help language skills develop (Romski & Sevcik, 1996)
  • Includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas (ASHA)

picture icons, speech-generating devices, gestures/signs, language boards

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2) I’m worried my child’s speech production will be inhibited if he/she continues to use AAC as a way to communicate. What if AAC negatively impacts my child’s ability to learn speech?

  • AAC will actually facilitate the development of speech for many children with developmental disabilities (Romski & Sevcik, 1996)
  • This is no research that suggests AAC will hinder the development of natural speech
  • AAC is highly beneficial because it may:
    • Reduce the pressure on the child to speak verbally
      • This can reduce stress and facilitate the production of speech naturally (Lloyd & Kangas, 1994)
    • Reduce the motor and cognitive demands of speaking, and focus on the goal of getting the message across instead

3) What is communicative competence?

  • It is a child effectively communicating his/her message to the listener
  • It is the central goal of AAC intervention (Light, 1997)
  • AAC can help create effective communicators
  • It is about the people:
    • AAC is just the tool; it is the people and the interaction between them that is the main focus!
  • It is learned:
    • Children must be taught how to use their AAC system to be effective communicators
    • It is a step-by-step process that takes hard work, commitment, and instruction—that’s where SLPs and parents come in!

4) How do we build communicative competence? (5 steps)

  • Identify meaningful and appropriate opportunities for communication
  • Prepare for these opportunities by teaching the child who uses AAC
  • Ensure conversational partners provide support, such modeling use of AAC system
  • Have the child participate in these opportunities at home and in the classroom
  • Reflect on experiences and learn through them
  • It focuses on the 4 purposes of communication:
    • To express our needs and wants
    • To build relationships or friendships with others (Light, 1988)
    • To share information (Light, 1988)
    • To use social etiquette; For example, “Thank you, have a good day” (Light, 1988)

5) My child has been using AAC in speech therapy for a while now, but I am not seeing any increase in the amount of speech he/she is producing. Should I be concerned?

  • Each child’s speech and language development is highly individualized, so there is not a straightforward answer. However, research shows that some individuals who are using AAC intervention may take somewhere between 6-25 sessions to show speech gains (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006)
  • Your child’s SLP will monitor the effectiveness of the AAC system on communicative competence, social interaction, language skills, and speech production.
  • Your child’s intervention will be changed as deemed necessary, and in the best interest of your child and your family.

Main Points:

  • SLPs and parents should not hesitate to use AAC with children whose speech is inadequate to meet their communication needs.
  • AAC has significant benefits for developing the language skills and communicative competence of many children.
  • AAC can have positive benefits for natural speech production—using AAC will NOT inhibit the production of speech!

Additional Information:

References

Light, J. (1988). Interaction involving individuals using augmentative and alternative communication: State of the art and future research directions. Augmentative and               Alternative Communication, 4, 66–82

Light, J. (1997). “Communication is the essence of human life”: Reflections on communicative competence. Augmentative and Alternative Communication13(2), 61-70.

Light, J. C., Binger, C., Agate, T. L., & Ramsay, K. N. (1999). Teaching partner-focused questions to individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication to enhancetheir communicative competence. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research42(1), 241-255.

Lloyd, L. L., & Kangas, K. (1994). Augmentative and alternative communication. In G. H. Shames, E. H. Wiig, &

  1. A.Secord(Eds.),Humancommunicationdisorders (4th ed., pp. 606–657). New York: Merrill/Macmillan

Lloyd, L. L. & Kangas, K. (1944). Augmentative and alternative communication. In G.H. Shames, E. H., Wiig, & W.A. Secord (Eds.), Human communication disorders (4th ed., pp 606-657). New York: Merrill/Macmillan.

Millar, D. C., Light, J. C., & Schlosser, R. W. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with          developmental disabilities: A research review. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research49(2), 248-264.

Romski, M. A., & Sevcik, R. A. (1996). Breaking the speech barrier: Language development through augmented means. Brookes Publishing Company, Maple Press Distribution Center, I-83 Industrial Park, PO Box 15100, York, PA 17405.

 

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