Written by: Nadia Navai, M.A., CCC-SLP
- AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Augmentative means ”to supplement,” so it includes things that make communication easier, such as text messaging or pointing. Alternative means “instead of,” such as systems that completely replace verbal communication (e.g. a communication device or tablet computer).
- Aided vs. Unaided AAC: We use both in our everyday lives! Unaided AAC relies solely on the body and physical abilities of the user. In other words, modalities that are on and with the person at all times, such as eye gaze, gestures, and facial expressions. Aided AAC requires an external tool/support, such as writing, texting, a voice output device, or a picture exchange system.
- No child is ever too young for AAC and no one is ever too old. A common misconception is that a child must be a certain age before an AAC system can be considered. In fact, success with AAC use does not depend on age. Similarly, no child is too cognitively impaired to benefit from AAC! There are NO prerequisites for use of AAC.
- AAC supports natural speech development! Contrary to common belief, AAC systems do not prevent a child from speaking. There are countless research studies that show that AAC does not hinder speech development but, in fact, can improve vocabulary and speech.
- Aided language modeling (ALM) is key in teaching \ children how to use their AAC systems. ALM means using the communication system while you talk, to demonstrate to the child how it is used. We model with the understanding that we’re providing language input, not with the expectation that the child will give us a response. Remember to use ALM as many times a day as possible, and not just in academic settings (e.g., when getting dressed, eating, playing, watching TV, listening to music, etc.)
- AAC should address more than just requesting. Although requesting is one of the first things we teach children, it shouldn’t be the only thing. Regardless of how our children communicate (e.g., verbal speech, AAC device, etc.), we need to remember to address ALL communication functions: greetings, slang, conversations, asking questions, commenting, sharing opinions, protesting/rejecting, EVERYTHING!
- AAC users need core words: vocabulary that is functional and can be used on a daily basis. Core vocabulary is a small set of words that make up about 80% of what we say everyday. These words are the building blocks to speech because they can be combined in a variety of ways. They are also easily used in different settings and contexts. Examples of core words include go, stop, want, help, more, in, and open. For example, once a child learns the word “go,” they can use it to say “want go,” “go away,” or ”don’t go.” The word “go” can be used anywhere including at the store, at school, and at home. For a more complete list of core words, please contact your speech-language pathologist.
- The AAC system should be available to the child at all times. The system must be accessible to the child at all times, so that they may be able to communicate whenever necessary. As a parent, that means remembering to have it charged and/or within your child’s reach. Similarly, allow your child time to explore and learn the system on their own. While it may look as though your child is randomly selecting icons on their device, this is one of the best ways for them to learn how their device works and where certain messages are located.
- It’s important to avoid over-prompting. When expecting an answer from your child, remember to wait 10-20 seconds before re-prompting. This allows your child enough time to process the information, as well as think about how they want to respond. This also helps to avoid prompt dependency. Be sure to give your child an expectant look, so that they know it’s their turn to respond. If you haven’t already, speak to your speech-language pathologist about your child’s prompt hierarchy.
- Making time for fun is critical! It’s important that children understand that their system is to be used for more than just “class time.” That being said, be sure to implement your child’s system during play. Examples of game and corresponding core words to use include: I Spy (e.g. “I see ___”), race cars or trains (“Go!,” “Stop!,” “Put it on”), and Legos (e.g., colors, “Help me,” “I want more”).
Please contact your speech-language pathologist for more information about AAC!