Everything you need to know to get started with AAC: systems for supporting communication
What is AAC?
AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication and refers to any device which adds to (augments) or replaces (is an alternative to) verbal communication. You might see people using picture cards, iPads with pictures, text-to-speech devices, gestures or a combination of many of these.
Who uses AAC?
AAC is not just for people who cannot speak. While some may have a lifelong disability that affects their speech and will use AAC to communicate their whole lives, there are many different types of people who use AAC or could benefit from Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Some users may be young children, who are still developing their language skills and benefit from using gestures or signs to augment their communication in the meantime. In this population, AAC helps to reduce frustration (for parent and child) and can be a bridge to verbal language.
Other users may be adults who have lost speech or voice due to a temporary or permanent injury. For example, someone undergoing cancer treatment may have a temporary loss of voice and benefit from a device that will speak for them. Or, adults who have dementia may utilise photo books to retell stories about their lives. There are many different types of AAC because there are so many different users! In fact, all AAC will require personalisation and many times are custom built for the user.
What are “Multimodal Users”?
Most people who use AAC have more than one method of communication. They may have picture cards with some common phrases, use gestures to communicate other messages and have some verbal communication or words.
How can you support an AAC user?
The best first step is to ask the AAC user themselves (or their family/support people) how you can be a good listener or support person. It’s important to keep in mind that all types of communication deserve respect and our full attention. Someone may be using an iPad to type messages to you or be using their phone’s photo roll to add context to their message. Either way, give them space and time to construct their message and do what you can to understand their message. This will go a long way!
What if you think you (or your child) might benefit from AAC?
The first person to talk to would be a speech pathologist. We look at communication holistically. This means we’re interested in how you communicate at work, school or the local cafe, not just in how you do on a formal language assessment. A speech pathologist will talk to you in-depth about your communication needs and goals and will be able to suggest AAC options that may be appropriate for you.
Newcastle Speech Pathology's team of speech pathologists have experience with a range of AAC options. We can help find the right fit for you and support you to integrate it into your daily life.
Rebecca Pfennigwerth, Certified Practising Speech Pathologist, MSPA