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The Ins and Outs of AAC

by Lauren Schrotenboer, MA, CCC-SLP

If you have a child who is non-verbal, extremely difficult to understand, or has limited verbal expression, and they are struggling to communicate, you may be wondering about additional options to help. Using augmentative alternative communication (AAC) may give your child the voice they need to communicate with the world around them.

What is Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC)?

AAC is any form of communication (discluding oral speech) that individuals use to express their wants, needs, and ideas. It comes in many different forms such as facial expressions, sign language, pictures, iPad Apps, and designated devices. Research shows that use of AAC often facilitates improved verbal communication as it supplements their oral speech rather than replaces it.

Where do I Start?

The answer to this questions depends on your child’s specific needs. A speech-language pathologist will perform a comprehensive evaluation looking at several factors such as your child’s expressive and receptive language, ability to learn how to navigate different devices, and motor abilities. The primary goal is to find a system that will allow the child to establish functional communication. Both parents and professionals need to problem solve the child’s basic needs throughout the day (ie. indicating when they are hungry, tired, or upset, requesting preferred activities, etc.) and give the child a means to communicate.

How do I Choose Which Words to Use?

Because functional communication is the ultimate goal, you and your speech therapist will brainstorm a core vocabulary your child should have access to throughout the day. Examples include: preferred toys, food items, and activities. For example, if they have goldfish for snack every morning, you will want to include this in their core vocabulary. Social communication is also important to introduce when initiating AAC use. This includes use of greetings (“hi” and “bye”), introductions (“My name is ____.”), and feelings (“I feel happy/sad/tired.”) As your child begins learning and using their core vocabulary consistently, additional vocabulary items will be slowly added to their communication system.

How do I Integrate this New Type of Communication System into my Daily Life?

It’s important for your child to always have access to their new device. You should always place it in a visible location so they can use it whenever needed. This is important because it allows your child to initiate communication. You could also consider labeling various items across the house with the same picture symbol displayed on their device. This will teach your child that one symbol/picture can generalize to tangible items around the house.

When introducing a new system to your child, it is crucial to remember your child is learning a new way to communicate. They will not use it perfectly at first, but will continue improving with practice. Consulting with your speech-language pathologist will give you specific strategies and techniques to use AAC with your child, which will lead to greater communication success!