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  • Writer's pictureAnick Labrèche-Garby

Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Say WHAT?!

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Have You Ever Wondered...

  • Why your child is speaking but most people cannot understand him/her?

  • Why you are working hard to develop your child’s speech skills in therapy but he/she is showing limited improvement?

  • Why your child understands everything you say, but he/she still isn’t talking yet!

  • How your non-verbal autistic child will ever communicate his/her wants and needs with others?

If you are asking yourself these questions, we encourage you to consider introducing Augmentative Communication.

Communication game on tablet

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is beneficial for individuals who cannot use their speech to meet their communication needs, or if their speech is difficult to understand (poor speech intelligibility). AAC is used either to supplement (add to) an individual’s speech to express their needs/wants, thoughts and ideas, or to replace the speech of individuals who have neurological, physical, developmental or cognitive limitations.

Individuals who use AAC can have:

  • A difficulty in coordinating their muscles used to produce speech (e.g. Childhood Apraxia of Speech)

  • A disturbance in muscle control that results in weakness, slowness and/or incoordination in speech production (e.g. Dysarthria)

  • A physical disability (e.g. Cerebral Palsy)

  • development delays or disabilities that affect speech and language (e.g. Autism, Down Syndrome)

  • Visual and/or hearing issues

  • Other neurological and genetic disorders

We all use multiple modes of communication each day. We smile to express pleasure, we nod yes, we wave or send a text to a friend. AAC introduces communication tools that include gestures, signs, symbol communication boards and books, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), voice output devices (symbol based devices that generates speech), finger spelling, eye gaze, and more. Using AAC can increase social interaction, language and literacy development, school and work performance, feelings of self-worth, and overall quality of life.

As Speech-Language Pathologists, we can’t predict how your child’s own speech motor system will develop over time (but I sincerely wish I did have that superpower!). However, an early start using AAC can provide your child the ability to express himself or herself more successfully. The selection of an AAC system should be based on the needs and strengths of each individual person. Our team of Speech-Language Pathologists has extensive experience and skills to assist you in selecting an appropriate communication system for your child!

AAC MYTH-BUSTERS- Let’s demystify AAC !

  1. AAC does not impede the development of speech and language (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006, and Schlosser & Wendt, 2008). In some cases, AAC may in fact improve speech production, but this will vary from person to person.

  2. There are no need to wait to introduce AAC (no prerequisite cognitive or behavioral skills required).

  3. Children don’t need to be able to match or identify pictures to develop AAC skills.

  4. Challenging behaviour is often communicative. Look for the root cause of the behaviour and work to replace it with a more socially acceptable means of communication.

  5. Just because a child needs AAC now, doesn’t mean he/she will need it forever. AAC can be a transitional strategy. Some children who use it actively in the early stages of development go on to communicate using speech later on.

  6. Providing the AAC tool is only the first step. It is through practice, use, and guided therapy that AAC users learn to be successful communicators.

  7. It’s never too late to begin teaching AAC. People start to use AAC at age 2, 11, 25 or 51. With good intervention, they will succeed.

Anick Labrèche-Garby, M.H.Sc., SLP(c) Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO

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