Augmentative / Alternative communication therapy

Also known as: Aug com therapy, Alternative communication therapy

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.

Watch What is Augmentative Communications

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, are available to help people express themselves. This may increase 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 their communication.

What are the types of AAC systems?
There are many types of AAC available. AAC systems generally 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 include the following:

  • 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. Messages can be spoken electronically and/or printed on a visual display or strip of paper. Many of them can connect to a computer for written communication. Some of them can be programmed to output different spoken language.

How do people use AAC systems?
There are two primary ways that people access AAC. Access is the way an individual makes selections 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 through the use of a pointing device such as a beam of light, headstick, or mouthstick. Those with severe physical impairments may need to access systems by using a switch. The switches can be turned on with a body part, puff of air, or wrinkle of an eyebrow.
  • Scanning–one type involves the use of lights on a system that pass over each choice and the user activates a switch to stop the light and pick a choice, other types are auditory scanning and scan patterns ( such as row/column, quadrant, step, and linear). Scanning requires less motor control but possibly more cognitive skill than direct selection access.

For more information, call us.

Providence Rehabilitation Services offers AAC evaluation by qualified speech-language pathologists for adults and children. The speech-language pathologist will make recommendations for the most appropriate communication system.