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Sunday 21 Jan 2018

Early Intervention and Augmentative Communication


Article by Stephanie Ekis, MS, CCC-SLP

Last month, I was sitting with my friend at one of my favorite sushi restaurants.  At the table across from ours were two women and a child who looked to be about 20-24 months old.  As the two women were absorbed in conversation, the little girl was busy playing a game on her mother’s Blackberry.  I was amazed!  I couldn’t see exactly what she was doing, but I could definitely see the engagement and ease at which she was able to manipulate the device.  While many of us find it challenging to send a text message or program our DVR, it seems as though today’s children are pre-wired for technology.

As I think about how this mother gave her baby access to technology at such a young age, I can’t help but smile.  It also makes me feel a bit sad to think about some of the children that I have met in the past.  Many of these children with developmental delays were given access to technology when they started pre-school…if they were lucky.  When working with young children with disabilities, we often take the “let’s wait and see approach.”  We let years of precious time go by without providing them with the tools they need in order to be successful communicators and learners.   Even though we have research to prove that augmentative communication intervention can be beneficial for young children, there are still many myths about the role that AAC can play in EI and these myths often get in the way of intervention. 

AAC of years past (especially high-tech devices) was often regarded as an intervention strategy of last resort if a child failed to develop speech. It is not unusual to meet a 10 year old child who has never had successful communication experiences, is significantly delayed in language and literacy and struggles to participate in academic activities.  Language and literacy development begins at birth and the use of AAC strategies should not be contingent on failure to develop speech skills. Intervention should begin before failure occurs. 

 AAC can have a positive impact on early communication development.  While the way in which AAC systems are used will vary depending on an individual child’s needs, Romski and Sevcik (2005) site four roles that AAC can play in early intervention:

  • augment existing natural speech (not replace natural speech)
  • provide a primary output mode for communication
  • provide an input and an output mode for language and communication and serving as a language intervention strategy
  • provide an output mode for communication

 Communication competency takes time.  Korsten states:

 “The average 18 month old child has been exposed to 4,380 hours of oral language at a rate of 8 hours/day from birth.  A child who has a communication system and receives speech/language therapy two times per week for 20-30 minutes sessions will reach this same amount of language exposure in 84 years.” 

Let’s commit to giving young children with special needs a head start by giving them access to all of the tools they need to be successful in life!  


Burkhart, L. Effective Use of Computers with Young Children

 Korsten, Jane. Considering AAC.  2000-2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project.

Romski, M., Sevicik, R. (2005). Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention Myths and Realities.

Infants & Young Children. Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 174–185

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