What Is AAC?

Exploring Alternative Communication Methods


AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication, which includes all the different ways to communicate besides using verbal speech. This ranges from no-tech options, such as gestures and facial expressions, to high-tech options, like using a speech generating device or an application on an iPad. AAC encompasses various ways to communicate (writing/typing, sign language, drawing, pointing to pictures, to name a few more). Now that you understand what AAC is, let’s talk more about verbal speech and how your speech-language pathologist (SLP) uses both.

As SLPs, we want your child to talk just as much as you do! Let’s think about how verbal speakers communicate. Sometimes you communicate using a gesture, a device like your phone or computer, or maybe the look on your face is enough to send a clear message. Just as you use various modes of communication, SLPs want the same for your child. The use of AAC empowers individuals to communicate and express themselves if they are unable to communicate verbally or if their speech is severely unintelligible. This can reduce frustration for you as a parent and help your child to communicate better with family, friends and teachers. Better communication leads to better relationships and a better quality of life for your child. Additionally, research tells us that AAC can have positive effects on speech and language and increase speech production in some children.

Why Isn’t My Child Using AAC Yet?

Let’s think about how a verbal child learns language. A young child learning how to talk has verbal models to learn language from the adults, siblings and peers who speak to him. It takes years before that young child begins to use words and starts speaking in complete sentences. Unfortunately, for children with complex communication needs, learning language in this way is not enough for them to start speaking.

This is a reason why SLPs introduce AAC, to encourage more communication. Similar to verbal speakers who learn language through verbal models (listening to those around him speak), an individual learning how to use his AAC system requires modeling too. This is called aided language stimulation (ALS). ALS is an approach where the communication partner points out picture symbols on the same device the child is using while speaking. This means that you, as the communication partner, are also using the language system to communicate. This not only helps your child learn how to use their device (for example, where certain words are, the meanings of those words, etc.), but this also helps you become familiar with the device too!

Collaboration with a speech therapist and team of related professionals is beneficial in supporting your child’s communication needs.

If you have additional questions or want to explore alternative communication methods, call 410-274-0041 to book a speech-language evaluation for your child. And stay tuned for more AAC strategies and tips!


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