Pediatric augmentative and alternative communication clinic

Also known as: Pediatric alternative communication

Augmentative and alternative communication (also known as AAC or Aug Com) is a mode of communication used by individuals who are unable to verbally express themselves.

The Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinic at Providence Neurodevelopmental Center for Children provides comprehensive, state-of-the-art evaluation and treatment for children whose speech or expressive language is either severely or profoundly impaired.

Our therapists will evaluate your child’s cognitive level (thinking, memory, problem solving), emotional level, motor skills development, ability to understand language, and ability to produce intelligible speech. Using this information, the therapists will work with you and your family to choose the type of communication system or device that will be most useful for your child.

What is AAC?

Augmentative and alternative communication includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write.

People with severe speech or language problems rely on AAC to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional. Special augmentative aids, such as picture and symbol communication boards and electronic devices, can help people express themselves. These devices can increase a person's social interaction, school performance and feelings of self-worth.

AAC users should not stop using speech if they are able to do so. The AAC aids and devices are used to enhance communication, not replace speech.

What types of AAC systems exist?

Many types of AAC systems are available. Generally they fall into two categories: unaided and aided. The best AAC system for an individual may include both aided and unaided systems to accommodate a variety of situations.Unaided communication systems do not provide voice output or electronic hardware. Someone must be present for unaided systems to work. (They cannot be used on a phone or from room to room.) Examples of unaided systems include:

  • Gestures
  • Body language
  • Sign language
  • Communication boards

Aided communication systems are electronic devices that may or may not provide some type of voice output. Devices that provide voice output are called speech-generating devices. These devices can display letters, words and phrases, or a variety of symbols to allow the user to construct messages. The messages can be spoken electronically and/or printed on a visual display or strip of paper. Many aided devices can connect to a computer for written communication. Some can be programmed to output different spoken languages.

How do people use AAC systems?

People can access AAC systems on a communication board or speech-generating device. Direct selection and scanning are two forms of access.

  • Direct selection–includes pointing with a body part, such as a finger, hand or toe, or by using a pointing device, such as a beam of light, headstick or mouthstick. People who have severe physical impairments may access systems by using a switch, which can be turned on with a body part, puff of air, or wrinkle of an eyebrow.
  • Scanning–may involve the use of lights that pass over each choice. The user activates a switch to stop the light and pick a choice. Other systems use auditory scanning and pattern scanning. Scanning requires less motor control but possibly more cognitive skill than direct selection access.

For more information, contact the Providence Neurodevelopmental Center for Children near you.

Learn more in our “What is Augmentative Communication?” video.

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Forms Instructions

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinic

Providence Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinic provides comprehensive, state-of-the-art evaluation and treatment for children whose speech or expressive language is either severely or profoundly impaired.

PNCC Referral Guide for Providers

This reference guide clarifies information needed by PNCC to schedule patients using a paper/fax or electronic referral process.