Augmentative and Alternative Communication Solutions
What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to any method of communication that can supplement or replace speech and handwriting of a person whose communication is impaired. AAC often refers to formal communication devices and systems such as sign language, picture communication boards or voice output communication device. AAC provides support and enhances communication, learning, independence and social interaction for people who can’t speak or read or write. AAC are the words used to describe extra ways of helping people who find it hard to communicate by speech or writing.
We all use augmentative communication techniques, such as facial expressions, gestures, and writing in our daily lives to help us communicate. People with severe speech or language problems often must rely on more specialized communication devices and strategies developed specifically for them, which includes many different methods. Signing and gesture do not need any extra bits and pieces and are called unaided systems. Others use picture charts, books and special computers. These are called aided systems. AAC can help people understand what is said to them as well as being able to say and write what they want”. ISAAC
Selecting the most appropriate communication method for a person is not as easy as going to a store and buying a device off the shelf. It is an individualized process that occurs over time and takes into consideration the person’s current communication techniques, current and future needs, their potential for using different kinds of AAC and their support systems.
Who can benefit from using AAC?
“Anyone who finds it very difficult to communicate by just speech may be helped by using AAC. Lots of different AAC methods are used by people of all ages, with physical or learning difficulties. Some people use AAC just to communicate. Other people use AAC to help them understand what is being said to them. Some people need to use AAC because of something that happened when they were born – people with cerebral palsy or learning disabilities. Other people start to use AAC when they are older. This can be because they have had a stoke or a brain injury or a disease. Any disability that makes it difficult for the person to communicate may find AAC methods helpful. For some people, AAC is just used for a short time such as after an operation. Other people use AAC all their lives.” ISAAC
There are no prerequisites and no one is too disabled to use some form of augmentative and/or alternative communication (AAC) to communicate. Everyone has a right to access language and communication and participate and be more active and independent with their families, at schools, in their communities, and in places of employment. The less speaking ability a person has, the more need they have for AAC. For some they will need intensive and lifelong communication support because of physical and language disabilities. For others, an acquired disability due to an accident or an illness may require AAC to support or expand on communication in certain situations. And still others may only need AAC support for a short period of time as a transition to speech.
A specific diagnosis does not determine whether someone can benefit from AAC; however, it should be a consideration based on the person’s communication needs. No one should be ruled in or out based on their medical condition or their cognitive abilities. Although not a complete listing, AAC can be used by individuals with the following:
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Neurologic impairments e.g. ALS, Parkinsons, Muscular Dystrophy
- Limited expressive communication – nonspecific diagnosis
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
What are the Prerequisites for AAC?
There are no prerequisites to beginning to use AAC. Everyone has the right to “develop functional communication skills”, to request or reject objects and actions, make choices, make their wants and needs know, express feelings, and to have their communication acts acknowledged and responded to. “There are prerequisite skills an augmented communicator should demonstrate before he/she is given access to a sophisticated AAC device.” Initial intervention strategies may include teaching object recognition and developing choice-making skills. Gestures and signs may be introduced when indicated. As symbolic skills improve, intervention activities will often focus around use of symbols to express simple and complex messages.” USSAAC
Acquiring an AAC Device
Once you have tried out several AAC devices and have determined the system that is the most appropriate and matches the features that are needed, there are multiple options for acquiring a device. Prices for communication devices can range from $200 to $10,000 depending on the complexity and sophistication of the device. ATLA does not provide funding for devices or long term loan of devices; however, staff can assist in locating potential funding sources. Staff work closely with other organizations to come up with possible solutions. Many businesses and organizations located on the funding pages may be willing to share some of the cost of a device. Funding does not happen overnight and may take up to three or four months or more. Work with your Care Coordinator, Vocational Counselor, speech pathologist, not-for-profit organization or advocate to help with this process. Besides the usual funding sources pre-owned devices may be available at reutilization/recycling centers.