About AAC


What is AAC?

AAC is a set of tools and strategies that an individual uses to solve everyday communicative challenges. Communication can take many forms such as: speech, a shared glance, text, gestures, facial expressions, touch, sign language, symbols, pictures, speech-generating devices, etc. Everyone uses multiple forms of communication, based upon the context and our communication partner. Effective communication occurs when the intent and meaning of one individual is understood by another person. The form is less important than the successful understanding of the message. *


Who benefits?

Communication takes many forms, and people communicate in multiple ways. Everyone uses AAC. However, when an individual has complex communication needs and the use of speech is limited in a range of settings, it is useful to utilize a well thought-out system, customized for the individual’s needs and environments.

Limitations in the use of speech may be due to many causes, such as:
• Cerebral Palsy
• Autism Spectrum Disorders
• Developmental language delays
• Traumatic brain injury
• Progressive neurological disorders, such as ALS
• Stroke
• Certain genetic disorders
• Ataxia, dyspraxia
• Aphasia
• Multiple challenges
• Temporary medical conditions such as a tracheotomy
• Young children who are at risk for communication disorders
• Etc.

Research and clinical experience show that the use of AAC with children does not block the development of speech. Quite the contrary, the use of alternative or augmentative communication often facilitates the development of speech for children who will be able to develop speech. AAC is now used successfully with very young children who are at risk.


How is AAC supported?

For individuals who use AAC on an extended basis, a team of professionals – including an AAC Specialist, who may be speech language pathologist (SLP) with additional training in AAC – work together in the process of designing, selecting, customizing, training and supporting AAC systems over time. The team needs to consider long-term goals and look at the impact of how systems will be used across a person’s lifetime. The individual who uses AAC and his/her family are critical members of this team. They will ultimately determine what works best for them in different situations. When an individual faces additional challenges, occupational therapists, physical therapists, vision and hearing specialists, assistive technology specialists, teachers and others may often be involved.

The overriding goals of an AAC system should be to provide a means for the individual to say what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, when she wants, and to whom she wants. Autonomy of an individual’s communication should be central.

People who are new to the field of AAC may make the mistake of looking for one system – perhaps a “high tech” speech-generating device – to be the “perfect solution.” This is rarely sufficient. There is more to the process than first meets the eye. Features and access strategies must be carefully matched to the individual’s requirements. Systems require training for the user, and often for communication partners who will be interacting with and supporting the user. Backup systems and creating an aided language learning environment for the user may also be critical. Repair and ongoing tech support for high tech devices will also be needed.

Selecting a pre-designed, carefully thought out language system, and then customizing vocabulary and messages, is an on-going process that should be periodically revisited as an individual’s needs or situation changes. This process is updated as new technologies are invented, and/or a person’s needs or environment changes. For many individuals, this will continue to be important throughout their lifetime.

Note of caution: As new systems are introduced, there is a danger that current systems may be discarded. A person’s communication system should never be taken away. When new communication strategies are introduced, they may be added to existing systems and strategies. The individual who is using AAC will decide when and where to use or discard possible systems.

Selecting, designing and customizing an AAC system is only the first step in the process. The individual will need training and experience using the system. Skills in the areas of language, pragmatics, operation (access), and strategic use of AAC may need to be learned. Communication partners will also need to be trained to help support the development and success of the system throughout the individual’s varied daily experiences.


*Text in this section of the website has been provided by Linda J. Burkhart, Technology Integration Specialist, 2011.