“AAC” stands for “Augmentative and Alternative Communication.” It’s essentially all the ways, aside from verbal speech, that we use to communicate. This includes gestures, sign language, written language, picture communication, etc. That means everyone uses AAC! Think about the last time you spoke to someone in person. Were you using your hands while you talked? Do you ever communicate via text? You were using AAC in these situations!
AAC competency is doubly important for folks who can’t communicate via verbal speech. In a society that primarily communicates through such, building gestural skills, sign language skills, written language skills, picture communication skills, and more can help them maintain and grow independence.
AAC and Assistive Technology
When people talk about AAC, they sometimes mean assistive technology. There are many devices for nonverbal communicators that, after a picture/word is selected, will “speak” for the nonverbal communicator. These devices can have extremely complex, personalizable language systems that allow nonverbal communicators to communicate fluidly and efficiently.
While touching the device is the quickest way for a nonverbal communicator to select and produce their desired word, there are other options for communicators with limited mobility and/or stability of their arms/hands. These devices allow users to select their desired words with a joystick, with a button that sits next to whatever part of their body is easiest to control, or even with their eyes alone! Technology has truly come a long way with regards to communication!
Why is AAC training important?
Knowledge dictates that children who use AAC devices should continue to use them at all times. Sadly, this is not always the case. Often times, a child’s AAC device gets packed in their book bag as they board the bus and it returns in the exact manner it was placed in the bag the day before. This is often because more training is needed for teachers and the parents on how to correctly use the device daily. The goal of these devices is to maximize communication. However, they are being used intermittently or not at all once the child leaves speech therapy for the day. Consistent use of the device at home, school, outside can help the child generalize use of the AAC device in various settings. The device should be set up in a way that is easy to use and navigate. Collaboration between the teachers, therapists and parents can help make it more user friendly.
What kinds of AAC/assistive technology devices do you recommend? How much do they cost?
Every communicator has different needs. For some, an iPad with a language system (like LAMP Words for Life or Proloquo2Go) will work well. For others, dedicated devices (i.e., devices that only allow the user access to the language system and no other apps), devices that come with 24/7 tech support, or devices that allow other forms of input (e.g., devices that allow switch selection or eye gaze selection) are necessary.
Thankfully, dedicated devices offered by Pretke Romich Company and Tobii Dynavox are covered in part by most insurance companies, including Medicaid! That means the cost to you, the consumer, is relatively low!