Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Augmentative and alternative communication or "AAC" refers to use of a technology device or system used in addition to or in place of verbal communication.  It can consist of gestural systems (i.e. sign language), low tech visual systems such as an eye gaze board, or high tech "computerized" devices which can have voice or visual output systems.  There are many systems that can be used with children.  Sign language is a gestural system which is widely used in the deaf community.  It consists of "American Sign Language" (ASL) or "Signing Exact English" (SEE).  ASL is a visual-gestural language.  SEE uses additional signs for word endings such as tenses, and follows the exact pattern of spoken English.  This can be an advantage when working with a potentially verbal child to teach them word endings/tenses.

Eye gaze boards are often used with nonverbal children.  They can be made in a variety of ways, such as pictures in/on notebooks, clear boards, or sturdy boards with an observation hole in the middle.  The pictures may be photographs of the child, people, objects, and activities.  It is important to use pictures for "words" the child would say if he/she could.  In addition, picture boards can be used as a complete and specific system such as the "Picture Exchange Communication System", or as a schedule board of daily activities and/or choices.  They can also be used around the house or on containers, toy bins, or boxes.  Pictures will often move in a hierarchy from concrete (objects, photographs) to more abstract (concepts, and line drawings).  The size of pictures may vary based on the visual and/or physical needs of the child.  They may be mounted on thick or textured board as well.  It is best to consult with an educational specialist or speech language pathologist when producing an eye gaze board, to determine the most appropriate board type, picture type, size, and language used.

"High tech" AAC devices can vary as well.  They can be anything from a single switch to a complex computerized device.  There are many devices available and access options, too many to go into detail!  An AAC team of specialists including a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and rehab engineer are often involved in evaluating a child or adult for a high tech AAC device.  They determine the needs of the person through an extensive evaluation, often try several devices, and access methods.  They look at the way the person will be using the device (their communication needs) and determine the most appropriate device.

If you are interested in pursuing an AAC evaluation, you may find information from your local pediatric hospitals, speech/hearing clinics, or through the "American Speech/language and Hearing Association" for specialists in your area.  Special education resource centers are often available for information as well.

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