Let me do a quick intro of myself. I’m Kacy Barron, a speech-language pathologist (SLP), which is our title but we are often referred to as speech therapists! We have that longer title because we actually do WAY more than just speech therapy.
Some things we do that are not just speech: expressive and receptive language, swallowing, feeding, cognitive communication, social skills, augmentative and alternative communication, voice, oral motor disorders, and more!
You can see that we have a pretty broad field! Which is why many of us SLPs specialize in an area or two.
My specialty is in augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC.
Let me break that down for you!
Augmentative = Supports verbal speech
Alternative = In place of verbal speech
Communication = Any form of expressing yourself
This article is written to help you understand how AAC can relate to your minimally verbal or nonverbal child.
Many people can benefit from AAC! In fact, I argue that we all benefit. We use AAC daily. We text, we write, we give thumbs up, thumbs down, other gestures…. You get the idea, right! Everything we don’t say but we communicate with other means is AAC!
AAC can be a primary way for some people to communicate, though. In fact, many of my speech/language therapy clients use AAC as their primary mode of communication because they are nonverbal or not easily understood. Some examples of disabilities that may require or benefit AAC include: people with autism (in the autistic community called autistic people), people with cerebral palsy, people with Down syndrome, people with Rett syndrome, people with apraxia of speech, and people with aphasia (and so many more!).
AAC with nonverbal children CAN result in verbal speech developing. This is actually what I see happen with many of my clients, and the research has also found this (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006; Schlosser & Wendt, 2008). AAC can be the bridge your child needs to move from nonverbal/nonspeaking to verbal!
Now, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, children who are nonverbal/nonspeaking never develop verbal speech or it never becomes completely functional in every aspect of their life. In those cases, an AAC device or system is absolutely necessary for their whole lives.
There are many different types of AAC, from low-tech communication books, mid-tech devices like GoTalks and Big Mack buttons/switches, to high-tech devices like iPads and Samsung tablets. Choosing an AAC system depends on the individual using the system.
AAC is not one-size-fits all. AAC should be customized to the person using the system, down to the words that are on the device or in the system!
Most of my clients have high-tech devices due to the voice output, longevity, the increased ability to put many words into the device, ease of use, and ability to fund high-tech AAC devices through many types of insurance.
Does your child have difficulty communicating with words? Do you attempt or did you once attempt to use sign language as a mode of communication and still wonder if that’s something that could help? Do you wonder what their needs are or what’s making them upset? Are they growing frustrated when you don’t respond immediately to what they are trying to tell you through grunts, cries, pointing, screams, etc?
If you responded yes to any of those questions, then YES, your child may benefit (or even require) AAC for communication.
This is where many parents can grow frustrated or feel lost. They know their child isn’t communicating all of the things they could be expressing, and no one has presented them with any suggestions or solutions. Or, maybe the suggestions fell flat.
I believe that empowering parents with information and knowledge is the key to a child’s success.
Speech-language pathologists have access to learn more about AAC in continuing education and online. However, there aren’t many resources for parents. I'm trying to change that.
One resource you can look into today is AAC in the Cloud on YouTube. It’s a free internet conference, and there are sessions recorded that are parent-focused.
I’m working to help parents learn more about AAC so they can help their child go from frustrated to flourishing. If you’re a parent and you’re feeling lost, please reach out to me and sign up for my newsletters.
I hope this article helped break down AAC to you and gave you some ideas in how you can get started. We covered who can benefit, different types of AAC, and some resources that may help you in your journey.
I’m always looking for new topics and new information to share, so please send me an email with your requests!
Feel free to email me at [email protected]
Millar, D.C., Light, J.C., & Schlosser, R.W. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: A research review. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 248-264.
Schlosser, R. & Wendt, O. (2008). Effects of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on speech production in children with autism: A systematic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17(3), 212-230.
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