Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Diana Pettke, SLP , states that successful AAC Systems will help individuals

  • Exercise control of their lives
  • Develop independence
  • Interact with others and express their wishes
  • Become productive, active members of society

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) addresses the needs of individuals who experience significant impairments in communication.  AAC is used by individuals with a variety of speech and language deficits with the goal being to support and achieve effective communication.  AAC provides a compensatory method for speech difficulties, but can also serve as an important tool in facilitating natural speech development (DeThorne et al., 2009).

Parents often share their concern that if an AAC system is introduced to their child it will encourage them stop talking. In fact, research supports the opposite: Reviews of published studies have found that AAC in general, and the use of speech-generating devices in particular, have a positive effect on speech production. There were no reports of decreases in speech production (Millar, Light, and Schlosser, 2006), (Schlosser and Wendt, 2008).

There are several different AAC classification systems in use at the present time. The one that we have found most useful is adapted from the presentations and publications of Marilyn Buzolich, the founder and director of Augmentative Communication and Technology Services (ACTS) and co-founder of the Bridge School:

No-Tech/ Unaided Communication Systems: These  systems an individual uses with no additional tools or technology such as motor behaviors, gestures, vocalizations, verbalizations (or verbal approximations), proxemics (approach, avoidance), eye gaze, and facial expressions.

Low Tech:  These are “aided” communication strategies (i.e., requires some type of external assistance for the symbols) which do not run from a power source–such as picture or object communication, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), partner assisted auditory scanning, etc.

Light Tech: voice output communication systems which are typically battery operated and have a static (non-changing) display Examples of these  are the Big Mac, Rocker Plate Talker, Step by Step, Cheaptalk, Tech Talk, Go Talk, Supertalker, or 7-Level Communication Builder.

High Tech: Systems typically requiring an electronic power source and having a dynamic (changing—i.e., computerized LCD screen) display such as a DynaVox Maestro, a Prentke Romich Accent, a Saltillo Nova-Chat or an iPad (with an appropriate AAC app).