What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?
AAC includes all forms of communication that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. We all use these communication strategies when we make facial expressions or gestures, point to pictures, or write. People with severe speech or language challenges may use AAC strategies to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional. Special augmentative aids, such as picture and symbol communication boards and electronic devices, are available to help people express themselves. This may increase social interaction, school/work performance, and feelings of self-worth.
AAC users should not stop using speech if they are able to do so. The AAC aids and devices are used to enhance their communication, not to replace or inhibit their existing skills.
For individuals with autism, an augmentative communication system should:
- increase participation in the classroom, work, community and home
- address IEP, work and personal goals
- support timely and interactive communication
- provide meaningful language to the recipient
- support language and literacy learning
- encourage successful day to day, face to face, real time interaction
- be age and level appropriate
- provide positive behavioral supports
AAC can be divided into two groups: unaided and aided. Unaided AAC strategies rely on the user’s body to convey messages. Unaided strategies include gestures, body language, and/or sign language. Keep in mind that unaided communication strategies must be understood by others in order to be effective.
Aided strategies require the use of tools and/or equipment in addition to the user’s body. Aided communication methods can range from paper and pencil to communication books or boards to devices that produce voice output and/or written output. Electronic communication aids allow the user to use picture symbols, letters and complete phrases to create messages. Some devices can be programmed to speak more than one language.
One of the goals of AAC intervention is to determine the communication, behavioral and social needs, identify strengths and match those strengths to possible solutions. While communication may be challenging for some individuals with autism, they possess many strengths that lend them to being able to successfully use different types of communication strategies.
|Individuals with autism…||AAC can…|
|Think in a visual way and recall visual images and memories easily.||Present language in a consistent and visual manner.|
|Can understand and benefit from concrete and visual information regarding daily events.||Provide tools such as visual schedules and calendars to help individuals with autism organize their lives and understand sequence and time.|
If you are considering AAC for and individual with autism, select the link below and complete the Communication Success Screening Form. This checklist may help you determine whether or not to explore augmentative communication tools and strategies.
To review a collection of research articles regarding AAC use for individuals with autism, visit: http://www.dynavoxtech.com/training/toolkit/details.aspx?id=303
If you child is of school age, consult with the SLP at their school. If you need help locating an SLP with knowledge in the area of autism click here.