What does AAC stand for?

AAC stands for “Augmentative and Alternative Communication”. 

What is AAC?

The word “augmentative” on its own means the quality of making something greater or an increased amount of. The word “alternative” essentially means for something to be or have another option, almost like a possible substitute. So, in layman’s terms, AAC is essentially an additional and different form of communication. 

Communication in general is the exchange and expression of information, ideas, thoughts, or feelings to another person or entity. AAC is any form of communication that does not involve verbally speaking. This means that whenever someone shares a thought or any kind of emotion without the use of words, he or she is using AAC. 

This makes it a broad form of communication in terms of the people who have the ability and, in fact, do consistently use it. So, AAC can be used by both those who may not have the ability to verbally communicate normally in addition to those who may have the ability to speak normally, but may still include AAC in their everyday communication whether it be intentionally or unintentionally. Some informal and everyday forms of communication that are considered AAC include, but are not limited to:

  • Texting
  • Writing a letter
  • Using facial expressions, like to show happiness or sadness
  • Using gestures (hands, arms, etc.)

What are the different types of AAC?

Generally, all of the different forms of AAC are classified as being either aided or unaided systems. Aided systems are characterized by the use of a tool or device to communicate. Unaided systems are known for their simplicity in the sense that the person that wants to communicate does not need anything except themselves to communicate.

Aided systems offer a wide array of help for those who may need or want to use an alternative form of communication. Aided systems can do anything from the use of a simple pencil and paper to the use of technology that creates speech. Aided systems are categorized as being either low tech or high tech.  Low tech aided AAC systems, which are also known as paper based or rapid access devices, are communication devices characterized as not needing any batteries, electricity, or electronics to accomplish its task. An example of how someone could use a low tech device would be placing letters or words on a board to spell out what he or she is trying to express. Another example of how someone could use a low tech AAC device includes placing or pointing to symbols or images within a book to show what he or she is trying to communicate. High tech aided AAC systems are communication devices that are described as being electronic devices made for the storage and acquisition of a message. Most high tech systems are devices meant for speech output, which means the computer essentially creates and expresses words in the event that someone can not do it for themselves. These speech output devices are more commonly known as Speech Generating Devices (SGDs) or Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs). Since all high tech AAC devices must be electronic and, in most cases, dynamic to accomplish its task of communication, a large portion of high tech AAC devices are computers. However, these specialized computers must be altered or set to fit the needs of the person using it. Whether it requires a speech output component for someone who can not speak for themselves or requires a pointer to indicate what word or symbol someone would like to use because he or she is unable to use their hands.

With no need for external tools and instruments, unaided AAC devices only involve the use of the communicator’s face and other parts of the body. Unaided AAC devices have been said to be more convenient for communicators. This is because there is no need for extra tools and instruments that may not be portable and may require proper planning in certain situations. These devices include, but are not limited to, facial expressions, sign language, both facial and bodily gestures, eye movements, etc.

Would all forms of AAC work for my child or would only certain ones work?

No child or adult’s disorder, disability, or situation overall will be exactly the same. This leaves no way to tell whether the exact same set of devices will be appropriate and helpful for each and every person. The amount of limitations and the overall objective of what the communicator is attempting to achieve by using an AAC device is what determines which devices will or won’t prove to be helpful in his or her day-to-day necessities. There are no restrictions on the amount of AAC devices a communicator should be using, however there is no guarantee that each and every form of AAC will prove to be helpful.

For those who may have a severe speech disorder, the best way to tell which AAC devices will be helpful and which ones may not be helpful is to be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist who specializes in AAC. This is because the clinician will have an effective and strategic approach of measuring what skills or deficiencies a patient may have. Additionally, the clinician will have a better idea of which AAC devices will be helpful to make day-to-day communication that may be difficult for a patient a bit easier.

If you think that your child may benefit from an AAC device, give us a call at Back Bay Speech and Occupational Therapy to find out which ones would be most helpful!

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