AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication - Part I

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My name is Caitlin Calder and my daughter Della has Bainbridge-Ropers Syndrome (ASXL3 mutation). I am starting my last year of graduate school at the University of Houston to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP) specializing in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Although I am drawing from my own experience helping my daughter learn to use a speech generating device, all of the strategies that I am recommending are evidence based and considered best practice for speech-language pathologists.

Part I: What is AAC?

What is AAC?

Augmentative and alternative communication is any method of communication that isn’t speech. A few common methods of AAC are sign language, pointing, head nodding, writing, and speech generating devices.

Is AAC an option for my child?

I believe some form of AAC is an option for all children, we just need to find the right method.

If my child uses AAC, will they ever learn to talk?

YES! Research shows that using AAC facilitates speech. If the child learns how effective communication is, AAC will motivate them to use speech more often, if they are able.

How do I know if my child is ready for AAC?

The most important component of communication in general, is a basic understanding of cause and effect. If I do (A) then (B) will happen. If I cry, my mom will come. If I throw my toy, my dad will get it.

  • Pointing: If the child can point to something they want, they can point to a picture or push a button.
  • Signing: If the child has even one basic sign, they have connected the idea that two, seemingly unrelated things, go together. On the surface, the action of bringing your hand to your mouth is completely unrelated to crackers, but symbolically it can get the child their favorite snack.

If your child is not currently doing any of these things, an SLP can help teach basic communication skills.

Where do I start?

An SLP in a school or in a private setting can be a good resource on where to start with your child. If your child is in public school in the United States, the school district may provide a communication device. Ask your child’s teacher or SLP if this is an option.

AAC options range from free to expensive and low-tech to high-tech. A free, low-tech option is sign language. Signs can be adapted to your child’s abilities and can be whatever you want. There are plenty of resources to get you started. Another low-tech option is using laminated photos of your child’s favorite snack or toy.

A high-tech option is a communication app on an iPad. A refurbished model (what our family has purchased twice) is around $120. There are a variety of communication apps at a variety of prices. If the iPad is out of your price range, search “ipad grants” to find a number of charities and government funded programs that help cover costs for individuals with a speech impairment.

What has been your experience with AAC? Do you have a specific question about communication? Please share with us in the comments below.