Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Would your child benefit from using non-spoken communication methods and AAC?

For children who face challenges in expressing themselves with spoken words, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can be a transformative tool. It opens up new avenues for them to convey their needs and desires, fostering confidence and ease in communication. AAC offers an empowering alternative for children to engage and connect, enhancing their ability to share their thoughts and feelings effectively.

A Growing Understanding works with children and their families to determine the need for AAC and what device or system may work best. There are many different types of AAC, including no-tech or low-tech options such as gestures, writing or using picture boards, and high-tech options that may include the use of a speech-generated device or app.

Through individualised therapy programs including ongoing parent support and education, our Speech Pathologists can:

  • Educate families and their child to understand, honour and accept all forms of communication
  • Help you and your child find the right AAC system
  • Help you and your child ‘talk’ with and learn to use AAC to communicate
  • Work with other professionals including Occupational Therapists to determine if there are physical skills that may affect how your child can access the AAC system
  • Tap into your child’s interests, skills, and challenges to develop appropriate goals associated with AAC and communication, and help them grow their confidence
  • Work with teachers and educators to ensure consistent access to AAC
  • Celebrate your child’s success and encourage ongoing practice to achieve the best outcomes

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) encompasses all forms of communication, aside from oral speech, used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. When we gesture, use symbols or pictures, or write, we’re engaging in AAC.

This form of communication is particularly beneficial for children with speech and/or language difficulties, enhancing their existing communication skills and aiding them in expressing their needs and wants.

Special augmentative aids like pictures, symbols, communication boards, and electronic devices can bolster children’s confidence, enrich social interactions, improve academic performance, and enhance self-esteem.

Concerns that AAC might inhibit a child’s spoken abilities are common, yet unfounded. Research has consistently shown that AAC usage, including high-tech devices that generate speech, can actually increase spoken communication abilities, such as verbally requesting items previously requested through a device (Alzrayer, Wood, & Voggt, 2020). AAC has also been shown to enhance single-word vocabulary skills and the ability to express multi-word/symbol utterances (Allen, Schlosser, Brock, & Shane, 2017). Essentially, AAC is not about replacing natural speech but enriching a child’s overall communication abilities.

AAC systems vary widely, and the most suitable type depends on the individual child’s needs. Our Speech Pathologist’s can help determine the best approach, with options generally falling into two categories:

Unaided Communication Systems: These systems use the user’s body to convey messages and typically include no-tech options like facial expressions, gestures, pointing, and/or signing with Key Word Sign or Auslan (Australian Sign Language).

Aided Communication Systems: Aided systems involve additional tools or equipment alongside the user’s body. Ranging from low-tech to high-tech, these can include paper and pencil, communication books or boards, and devices that produce voice or written output. Some high-tech systems allow the user to access pictures, symbols, letters, words, and phrases to construct messages.

Our Speech Pathologists are skilled in supporting children who may benefit from AAC, providing them with improved communication avenues. With experience in various AAC devices and methods, our Speech Pathologists can make this journey an exciting and transformative experience for children/adolescents and their families. AAC can alleviate frustrations associated with limited or absent speech, enhancing the child’s sense of independence and self-worth, and opening new pathways for self-expression, socialisation, learning, and functional activities.

When considering AAC, we are often asked about:

Age, Skills, and Timing: Contrary to some beliefs, there’s no specific age requirement to start using AAC. It’s beneficial for all ages, including children younger than 3 years old. There’s no need to wait for certain cognitive skills or developmental milestones; AAC can be effective at any stage.

Talking and Motivation: Concerns that AAC might impede spoken language development are misplaced. In fact, research indicates that AAC can foster speech and language skills. It’s also instrumental in developing reading and writing abilities.

What to Consider with AAC:

  • AAC systems can be either short-term or long-term solutions for communication challenges.
  • AAC can be used part time, for children who can use spoken communication, but may have restricted access to spoken language in different environments e.g. school/in the community.
  • The journey with AAC requires patience and time.
  • Effective use involves communication partners actively connecting with the AAC and modelling without expectation and pressure.
  • AAC use can flourish when AAC is integrated naturally into everyday meaningful activities.

AAC is not just a tool for communication; it’s a gateway to greater self-expression and connection. By embracing AAC, we open a world of possibilities for children to interact, learn, and grow.

Remember, every child develops at their own pace, but if you are concerned, talk to us today. Our friendly team of experienced speech pathologists are here to guide you through your concern and help you take the best next step.