Disability Awareness The Voice Disability Awareness

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Talking Point is a resource for parents and professionals with information about communication, including Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

Communication difficulties may be a result of a physical disability, sensory impairment, language impairment or learning difficulty. There are many different ways to communicate and there are many strategies that can help.

What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (or AAC) are the different ways to communicate in addition to, or in replacement of, speech or writing.

AAC resources may be helpful for supporting receptive or expressive communication. Receptive communication means understanding what someone else is communicating to you. Expressive communication is conveying a message to someone else.

AAC systems may be unaided or aided. Unaided systems do not require any additional resources. Signing is an example of an unaided method of communication, which also utilises gesture and facial expression. Aided AAC systems involve the use of additional resources and can be categorised as Low Tech, Light Tech or High Tech.

Low Tech systems involve little or no technology, such as the use of objects or pictures or symbols. These can be used to help understanding (receptive communication) or to pass on information (expressive communication). Examples of these are Communication Boards, Communication Books and E-Tran Frames.

Light Tech and High Tech AAC are battery operated devices that speak messages. These are often called Voice Output Communication Aids or VOCAs. These vary widely and may offer a single message up to multiple messages. They may involve a single button press to speak a whole message or require multiple button presses to build up a sentence.

For children who are likely to require AAC, there are benefits to introducing systems early on. Prolonged periods of time without a communication system can lead to frustration or may result in reduced interest and passivity. It is vital to identify systems that will allow children to have some control in their lives and to demonstrate what they can achieve.

Using AAC systems will always be slower than speech, so introducing strategies early on can be helpful. Sometimes it may be necessary to practise the physical skills to access the communication resources as well as learn how to use them.

There are many different ways that a message can be represented.

Stages of Communication Development

Early communication can be described as pre-intentional. This means that the individual is communicating but may not have planned to do so, such as crying as a result of hunger or discomfort.

Intentional communication develops later and communication skills are used deliberately to pass on information. Often unconventional behaviours are used before conventional methods are learnt, for example, tugging on people to show them something, or vocalising and gesturing.

For more information go to: Talking Point

Written by Rachel Harrison, speech and language therapist, on behalf of Integrated Treatment Services. www.integratedtreatmentservices.co.uk