“Full interpersonal communication substantially enhances an individual's potential for education, employment, and independence. Therefore, it is imperative that the goal of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) use be the most effective interactive communication possible. Anything less represents a compromise of the individual's human potential.”
— American Speech-Hearing Association (ASHA)
What is AAC?
AAC means all of the ways that someone communicates besides talking. People of all ages can use AAC if they have trouble with speech or language skills. Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Some people use AAC throughout their life. Others may use AAC only for a short time, like when they have surgery and can’t talk. (ASHA, 2023)
Why use a voice output communication device?
For 50 years, voice output, or AAC, devices have been used to help those with developmental and acquired disabilities to communicate successfully.
AAC devices offer tremendous promise in helping nonverbal individuals with autism overcome their unique communication barriers.
How effective are AAC devices?
Some parents worry that giving an AAC system to their child will prohibit the development of verbal speech. However, research has repeatedly shown that this is not the case – in fact, the opposite is often true.
AAC systems provide an active means of communication, which tends to improve verbal speech. The process of learning the meaning of one word, then increasing their single word vocabulary, and then combining words together to make phrases and sentences helps children with autism reach the goal of independent, spontaneous communication.
The auditory output of AAC devices provide sensory feedback to help the child develop his receptive and expressive language skills.
Is my child ready?
There are no prerequisites to introducing AAC or using a speech generating device.
In fact, using a device with speech output and consistent motor patterns to say words is an easier cognitive task for nonverbal individuals. Learning can start at a cause/effect level, where the learner touches a button, hears a word, and experiences what happens.
Modifications can be made to accommodate the learner’s current level of language and motor skills by:
- Using a larger screen
- Using a keyguard
- Highlighting keys
- Limiting available choices
However, it’s important that the individual have quick access to a lot of language; if the communicator doesn’t have access to the words they would want to say, then why use the AAC system?
It’s also important to maintain consistency when beginning communication. Starting with one type of system with the intent of graduating to another system when the individual “proves” they’re ready mans that individual will have to have to relearn how to communicate. The motor movements are different, words are in a different place, it may sound different, etc. Relearning places a greater burden on those with more cognitive challenges.
Download a PDF with more information on the influence of AAC on communication development.