Communication devices, systems, strategies, and tools that replace or support natural speech are known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). These tools support individuals who have difficulties communicating using speech.
The first “A” in AAC stands for Augmentative Communication. When you augment something, you add to it or supplement. Augmentative communication is when you add something to your speech (eg. sign language, pictures, a letter board). This can make your message clearer to your listener.
The second “A” in AAC stands for Alternative Communication. This is when you are not able to speak. It is also when your speech is not understood by others. In this case, you need a different way to communicate (text-based, voice output device).
Types of AAC
There are many different types of AAC.
No-tech and low-tech options include:
gestures, facial expressions, eye gaze, movement
spelling words by pointing to letters or typing on a keyboard
pointing to photos, pictures, or written words.
High-tech options include:
using an app on an iPad or tablet
using a computer with a “voice," sometimes called a speech-generating device.
A person may use different types of AAC because there are many ways that we all communicate.
Many people who cannot speak, but use AAC, are multimodal communicators. This means they have multiple ways to communicate their messages. Along with AAC, they might use vocalizations, word approximations, and maybe some gesture and sign language. Many people show photos to add to what they are saying. All different methods of communication should be valued and respected.
Many people with minimal spoken communication benefit from AAC. If speech is limited, AAC can help. It can provide a person with more words to express language. They may communicate far more with AAC than they can with speech alone.
Challenges Without AAC
There are many reasons why a person may not be able to communicate using speech. They may have a developmental disability or acquired a disorder that has affected the development or ability to speak. It can be confusing and frustrating when messages cannot be given effectively. This is frustrating for both the non-speaking person and their communication partner. Without AAC and supports, a person can feel trapped inside without having a voice.
People who use AAC say that, prior to having a communication system, they experienced:
more social isolation and loneliness
increased frustration and acting out
greater vulnerability, especially when alone in a care setting
feeling shut out of important decisions over their own life
inability to show what they know or can learn
Prompting & Modeling
Students need access and support to participate in the world. By believing in their capabilities and supporting their regulation and expressive language, we can help make that happen. Individuals learning to use AAC require prompts and modeling from a communication partner.
Prompting is a strategy to assist, suggest, or cue someone to build and strengthen muscle memory to use an AAC system with automaticity. Typically, prompts are verbal, visual, or physical/tactile. The goal is for the individual to be as independent as able to.
Modeling on the system the learner is using supports building
expressive language while talking. All AAC learners need to see what communication looks like using their AAC system in real conversations. Communication partners point to or press words on the AAC system while speaking.