Augmentative and Alternative Communication

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC is the acronym for Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Communication devices, systems, strategies and tools that substitute or support natural speech, are known as augmentative and alternative communication. These tools support people who face difficulties in their use of natural speech.

The first “A” stands for Augmentative Communication. Augmenting communication means adding something to speech (such as gestures, pictures, and/or letters on a chart) so as to make the message clearer and make communication more effective.

The second “A” stands for Alternative Communication. This occurs in the absence of speech. Moreover, we can use alternative communication when the person cannot be easily understood. In both of these cases, there is a need for an alternative means of communication.

AAC is a compilation of systems, tools, devices and techniques that can help a person communicate when communication cannot rely on speech alone. Perhaps your child has not yet begun to speak. Or perhaps you have lost your ability to speak. Perhaps speech is not a constant. Perhaps speech is a difficult way to communicate. AAC can help.

Who is ACC for?

There are many reasons for which an individual can have trouble communicating through the use of natural speech. There may be a developmental disorder that affects the development of speech. There may be an acquired disorder that affects an individual’s ability to speak. Most individuals with communication difficulties due to the many and varied speech disorders can benefit from the augmentative and alternative communication systems.

Communicating through little or no speech

Communication without speech is difficult. Individuals who lack the ability of speech have a hard time in a world where everybody speaks. The impossibility of transmitting a message is something that can cause apprehension, and upset both the individual who faces difficulties speaking as well as their communication partner.

Most often an individual who cannot speak can still have thoughts. How will those individuals be able to express their thoughts?

When an individual lacks the ability to speak, people around them will often make assumptions regarding what that individual can understand or learn.

An individual who has trouble speaking will soon learn that it is easy to ask for certain things in alternative ways (for instance, reaching for the remote control means that they would like to switch channels). Furthermore, they learn that it is quite difficult to communicate about certain other things (for instance, commenting on the show you are watching).

What kinds of ACC are there?

AAC includes all those systems, techniques and instruments that help an individual communicate when communication cannot be relied exclusively on speech. Usually, we subdivide them in two categories: Aided and Unaided AAC systems.

1. AAC that does not require some type of physical aid or instrument

  • Facial expressions
  • Body Language
  • Gestures
  • Sign Language

2. AAC that uses tools and materials

  • Symbol Charts
  • Selection Cards
  • Communication Books
  • PODD Books
  • Keyboards and letter charts
  • Voice production instruments and communication
  • AAC applications on mobile devices

Effective communication oftentimes requires more than one means of communication. Thus, a child may use a smart device (such as an AAC app on a tablet) while simultaneously using a communication book.

A boy could be using the alternative communication software on his tablet while also using a communication book.

ACC using text

An AAC system may include a keyboard so that the individual can type the words they wish to speak. This specific alternative solution is obviously aimed at people who are literate.

ACC based on symbols

Many individuals who cannot read or write may need symbols or pictures in order to communicate. We can introduce visual symbols that represent words or phrases.

There are more than one ways of communication! The importance of multilayered communication

Many individuals lack the ability of speech but use the AAC systems in order to communicate via different means and not solely through a device or a communication book.

In combination with a speech production device or a communication book, they may use phonemes, word approximations, gestures and sign language. All different means of communication are important and must be considered acceptable by the communication partners of people using AAC systems.

Even individuals who do not lack the ability to speak can benefit from AAC systems, as these allow them to use more language and express more thoughts, at times when speech alone is not enough.

The benefits of alternative and augmentative communication

Individuals who cannot rely on speech for their communication can benefit significantly from using an AAC system.

More specifically, people using such systems report significant benefits in their quality of life, including:

  • Stronger friendships and deeper relationships
  • Richer and more frequent social interactions
  • More substantial social roles: family member, friend, professional, student
  • Increased autonomy and decision-making abilities regarding self
  • Increased independence
  • Increased respect from their environment
  • Greater participation in their family and community life
  • Improved transfer of information to doctors
  • Improved personal safety in a variety of contexts, such as hospitals and daycare centers
  • Increased opportunities for vocational rehabilitation
  • Improved physical and mental health

Difficulties faced by individuals who do not use aac systems

A lot of individuals who cannot rely on speech to communicate report many and varied difficulties due to the absence of an AAC system.

Most people who are now using AAC have reported that before their use they felt:

  • Greater social distancing and loneliness
  • Increased distress
  • Increased sensitivity, particularly when they were alone in daycare centers or hospitals
  • Absence of participation in decisions that involved their own lives
  • Inability to show what they understand and what they know

The acc journey

Communication is a fundamental human right

An individual with difficulties in the production of speech can be aided considerably through the use of an AAC system.

Before you begin you may wonder whether an AAC system is indeed necessary. Would such a system be useful? When is a good time to think about introducing a communication system in the life of an individual who has trouble using speech?

The answer is the sooner the better. Research has shown that the sooner the communication systems are introduced the stronger the social interaction skills and communication skills of even youngsters who are in an early intervention program.

For more information regarding the importance of Alternative and Augmentative Communication in early intervention, visit the Penn State University site.