What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

At its most basic level, AAC is anything that helps a person communicate when traditional spoken or written forms of communication don’t meet that person’s needs. AAC systems can range from "light tech" systems such as expanded use of natural gestures, sign language or pictures to speech generating devices like dedicated devices and iPads.

According to the National Joint Committee for the Communication of Persons with Severe Disabilities (NJC), "There are no prerequisites to use AAC. The currently accepted evidence in the literature suggests that no specific skills are prerequisite for successful use of AAC in the broadest sense. AAC is an intervention approach that can be the beginning of communication development for an individual." Everybody can communicate!

We all use multiple modes of communication each day. We nod yes, smile to express pleasure, wave to a friend, or signal a waitress that it is time for the check. For children struggling with speech and language, using multiple modes of communication including speech, gestures, facial expression, sign language, pictures, and voice output communication devices, can enhance understanding of language as well as improve expressive communication.

Who Uses AAC?

In 1991 the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimated that there were more than 2 million individuals in the United States who were unable to communicate using speech or who had severe communication impairments. Disorders resulting in severe communication impairments include cerebral palsy, autism, apraxia, Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and other developmental disorders. While some might only think of using AAC with "nonverbal" children, clinically, AAC has proven to be of great value to young children with emerging verbal skills as well as to children who are functionally nonspeaking (Scott, 1998).

Will AAC Interfere with Speech?

Research has shown that AAC does not inhibit the development of speech. "In fact, in some individuals with a variety of disorders including aphasia, apraxia, dysarthria, autism, and cognitive impairment, AAC has been shown to actually facilitate the development of speech" (Lloyd, Fuller, & Arvidson, 1997, p. 236). "AAC strategies can provide children who have developmental delays with an immediate means of communication; can facilitate expressive and receptive language development until other communication modalities (i.e., speech) improve; and can serve as a bridge to future spoken language development" (Glennen & DeCoste, 1997, p. 395).

References

Glennen, S. L. & DeCoste (1997). Handbook of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. San Diego: Singular Publishing.

Lloyd, L. L., Fuller, D. R., & Arvidson, H. H. (1997). Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A Handbook of Principles and Practices.

National Joint Committee for the Communication of Persons with Severe Disabilities (NJC)

Scott, A. (December 7, 1998). AAC in Early Intervention. Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists, 8(5), 28-29.

TALC Services

TALC Therapists

Jill E. Senner, PhD, CCC-SLP has been the owner/director of Technology and Language Center since 2001. She completed her doctoral work at Northwestern University and has an MS in Speech-Language Pathology from Purdue University where she participated in the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Personnel Preparation Program. Dr. Senner has presented at numerous national assistive technology conferences including Closing the Gap, United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC) and Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) and has taught graudate courses in AAC and swallowing disorders. She has published research in the areas of AAC, sibling issues and swallowing disorders.

Her past experience includes working as an Assistant Professor at University of Wyoming, an Assistive Technology Specialist in Augmentative Communication at the University of Illinois- Chicago, Assistive Technology Unit, and interning at the Alan J. Brown Center for Augmentative Communication and Environmental Control at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Click to download Dr. Senner's full curriculum vitae.

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