Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to both a method of providing communication support to individuals who are unable to use their own verbal speech to communicate effectively, as well as the tools that may be used to provide that support. Many different diagnoses may result in a need for AAC because of their impact on the individual’s ability to talk and can include cerebral palsy, stroke, apraxia, Down syndrome, Autism, Parkinson’s disease, Rett’s syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and/or throat/neck cancer. AAC can assist people of varying ages from young children to older adults.
AAC systems/devices are extremely diverse:
Unaided systems do not involve the use of special equipment; rather, unaided systems utilize the individual’s own body language, sign language, vocal signals and gestures to facilitate communication.
Aided systems involve the use of pictures, objects, letter boards, and other technology options that can include special apps on iPad or Android platforms and specialized computer systems that have multiple ways of representing language (pictures/words/letters/tactile symbols) for those in need of this type of support.
Devices with eye gaze can be used to select target symbols directly for those with neurological diseases that impede the use of the hands.
People with severe speech or language problems rely on AAC to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional.
Just as the individuals that may benefit from augmentative and alternative communication are greatly varied, so are the options and choices in relation to AAC systems.
Facts about AAC Devices
Some individuals will need AAC supports for only a brief period of time, while others will require it throughout their lives.
AAC can also provide clarity to the speech of those who talk, but whose speech is difficult to understand. AAC can provide total communication support for others that have no ability to generate verbal speech.
Special augmentative aids, such as picture and symbol communication boards and electronic devices, are available to help people express themselves, which may increase:
Involvement in the workplace
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.
The evaluation process for use of AAC can be complex and involves review and consideration of a number of areas such as current speech skills, language skills, cognition, hearing, vision and fine motor abilities. Trials of different supports and systems are part of the evaluation process and assist in the final determination of appropriate tools and methods to address personal communication needs.