Augmentative and Alternative Communication

by Care Speech 
18 January 2022

Communication is a fundamental human right and supports every part of our daily lives. Effective communication is integral to our relationships with other people and allows us to participate in all areas of the communities we live in including homes, schools, workplaces, social gatherings, and daily living. The ability to communicate with others supports our physical and mental health, allowing us to be independent and have control over our choices. For someone who is not able to communicate optimally by talking, AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, can be life changing. AAC is used by adults and children at all stages of life to support speech, language, and communication, and is able to grow and change with a person’s needs.

What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication is a term that is used to describe a myriad of ways to communicate other than talking. 

  • Augmentative Communication is used by people while they are talking to support speech, make the message clearer or enhance meaning. 
  • Alternative communication, as the name suggests, is a means of communication used instead of talking when a person is unable to speak, or their speech is not able to be understood by others. 

Types of AAC

AAC falls into two categories, unaided and aided.

  • Unaided AAC can be produced using the body without the need for equipment. Examples of unaided AAC included body language, gestures, and standard signing systems such as Key Word Sign or Auslan.
  • Aided AAC is any piece of equipment used to support communication whether it be low-tech or high-tech. 
    • Examples of low-tech AAC are objects, symbols, pictures, drawing and writing. These can be presented in a variety of forms from everyday pen and paper to common low-tech devices including communication books and picture exchange systems. 
    • Examples of high-tech AAC are tablets, computers, phones, purpose-built speech generating devices and dedicated communication applications and devices.

With such a wide range of AAC options on offer, it may seem daunting to know which one to choose. Your Speech Pathologist will work with you to assist with this choice and will consider your needs, wants, skills, budget, and the people and places that are part of your life. They will provide training to you and the people in your community, such as family and friends, to ensure that you are getting the most out of your chosen method.

Common AAC myths

Using AAC will prevent my child from learning to talk. 

“If they can communicate using signs or a communication board, they’ll never need to talk.” Makes sense, right? Actually, studies have shown that the opposite is true. It has been found that children who are delayed, or likely to be delayed, when beginning to talk, tend to develop spoken language more easily when introduced to augmentative communication early on. This is because using AAC develops a person’s foundational skills in communicating, expressing, understanding, and taking turns in interactions, which can then support the development of verbal language.

Using AAC is ‘no replacement’ for spoken communication.

It is a common view that spoken language is the superior method of communication, and that while AAC can be useful at times, AAC users aren’t able to communicate as well as people who speak. In actual fact, a well-designed AAC system that considers all aspects of a person’s life, environment, relationships, and communication needs has the capacity to enable communication to the same level as spoken language, especially when the surrounding people are also comprehensively trained in the use of the AAC system. In fact, for a person who is unable to meet all their needs with talking, implementing an AAC system can offer a far superior communication experience. 

AAC cannot be implemented via telehealth.

It is true that implementing an AAC system can be a long road, starting with early familiarisation and progressing to total mastery over time. It is also true that most AAC systems require close support from a Speech Pathologist to be implemented meaningfully and successfully. However, it is not true that this can only be done in the same physical room as your Speech Pathologist. Real-time video consultations and telehealth software now allows your Speech Pathologist to talk you through every step of the AAC implementation process from wherever you are – including choosing your AAC system, trialing it for the first time, troubleshooting any errors, teaching it to a loved one, introducing new functions and eventually generalising it to everyday use. 

If you would like to find out more about an AAC system that might work for you or would like to book an initial consultation with a Speech Pathologist from our team, please contact us on 1300 086 280 or at [email protected].

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