Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) is an umbrella term that refers to any set of tools or strategies used to solve communication challenges for those who have limited or no intelligible spoken language. There are many different kinds of AAC including picture boards, sign language, low-tech and high-tech devices. Here at Skill Builders, we are proud to offer an expert AAC team. Our practice is one of seven “LAMP Centers of Excellence” in the country, and the only one in the state of Virginia! We pride ourselves in striving to constantly seek out the latest research and technologies in this field.
AAC can be a fantastic tool to facilitate communication, but we’ve found that there are some myths surrounding AAC that need to be debunked! Here are some common misconceptions:
- “AAC is a last resort”
AAC is just a tool, like any other that we would use in therapy. Studies show that introducing children to AAC earlier in the process actually supports acquisition of language skills and spoken language skills. Therefore, we do not have to wait until all other interventions have failed in order to start exploring AAC.
- “An AAC device will prevent my child from speaking. “
You might think that if a child uses a device to communicate, he won’t be motivated to try to speak. However, research shows the opposite to be true! The majority of studies of the effects of AAC on speech production in children with autism reveal an increase in speech production, and none of have shown a decline in speech production. This is perhaps due to increase in communication opportunities for the child, reduced physical and social demands to speak, and consistent multi-sensory feedback from the device when communicating.
- “My child does not show joint-engagement so he cannot use an AAC device.”
Joint attention is actually not a prerequisite for communication, as once believed. Studies show that introducing an AAC device often leads to an increase in joint-attention, as well as in engagement and play skills.
- “My child has challenging behaviors.”
If a child does not have a reliable, effective way to communicate, he/she has no other choice but to use behaviors to express themselves. Appropriate, functional, comprehensive communication is necessary for “appropriate” behavior. AAC can decrease the frequency of challenging behaviors by easing frustration and supporting /providing a means of communication.
- “My child can already express his basic wants and needs. He doesn’t need an AAC device.”
Basic needs are such a small piece of what people communicate about. Think of all the things you say throughout your day, and how many of them are actually basic wants and needs? Very few! We use communication to transfer information, ask questions, engage in conversation, and socialize with other people. Our goal is for an AAC user to access to the same functions of communication as anyone else. An AAC device can allow the child to participate in everyday routines, which helps reduce loneliness, and fosters meaningful relationships.
- “My child is too young for an AAC device.”
Communication is much more than saying words. The first three years of life are crucial for brain development and foundational language learning. No studies have been found to suggest a minimum age requirement for introducing AAC. The American Journal of Pediatrics does not recommend screens for children younger than 18 months, so for these children low-tech systems can be utilized until reaching this age.
- “My child is too cognitively impaired to use an AAC device.”
Communication is a vehicle for expanding cognitive skills. AAC intervention is designed to meet the child at their current level, and work up from there.
If you have questions about AAC, or are considering exploring this for your child, we are here to talk to you! Feel free to contact our AAC team, or come to one of our AAC Parent Support groups to hear stories from other families. Contact our lead AAC therapist, Amy Bereiter at Amy@skillbuildersllc.com.
Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP
Information adapted from a presentation created for Skill Builders by Kaitlyn Jones.