What is AAC?
AAC = Augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC, is a term that's used to describe various methods of communication that can help people who are unable to use verbal speech to communicate. AAC is designed for Autism, Down Syndrome, ALS, apraxia, stroke, etc.
Communication is one of the the most essential things in the world. Every creature communicates somehow, but articulated communication distinguishes humankind from an animal.
It all comes down to communication. It is the way people interact, establish relationships, learn about the world and others, even about themselves and make themselves be understood. It has different types and forms such as verbal (oral and written), nonverbal (through appearance, body language, gestures, images), and para verbal (the inflection, pitch, pacing, tone of the speech).
It is clear that everyone has questions, doubts, and curiosities and, on the other hand, also something to say, to let others know about. Of course, it must be easy for completely developed people to express themselves verbally anytime and on any occasion, but what about people who find it challenging or even impossible to speak?
AAC is the answer
AAC comes to help a particular category of people we will refer to after clarifying the term. AAC means Augmentative and Alternative Communication. But what does it mean?
Augmentative communication represents the addition of different elements to the speech to support it and help the information be transmitted clearly and more efficiently.
Alternative communication is a way of expressing thoughts, ideas, feelings, desires, and needs without using speech.
The two terms are combined to convey the system of communication methods used to supplement or even substitute natural speech or writing for those who are unable to use it efficiently.
AAC is defined by The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a mixture of forms of communication, including languages and a display of text, large-print, tactile communication, plain language, accessible multimedia, and accessible information and communication technology. It has its modern origins in the 1950s, and its development has driven it to be characterized by two forms: unaided AAC and aided AAC.
Types of AAC
Speech Generating Devices (SGD)
Single Message Devices and Recordable/Digitized Devices
AAC software that enables dynamic symbol/language representation and that is used with a computer/tablet/smartphone
Unaided AAC does not require special outside tools or supplemental materials because it is based on natural communication such as facial expressions, gestures, body language, and informal vocalization. It even implies sign languages.
Aided AAC is any device, either electronic or non-electronic, that is used to transmit or receive messages. It can range from communication books or boards to speech-generating devices.
It is divided into two categories: low-tech aids and high-tech aids.
The first refers to non-electronic devices, usually represented by elementary communication books or boards. Each user selects letters, words, phrases, symbols, objects, or images to transmit a message.
The second category includes speech generating devices or voice output communication aid in electronic format. There are usually digitalized, playing recorded words or phrases, or synthesized, using text-to-speech software.
Who is AAC addressed to?
AAC addresses anyone who suffers from neuron-motor disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual impairments, developmental verbal dyspraxia, traumatic brain injury, aphasia, locked-in syndrome, strokes, motor neuron disease, or dementia. In addition, AAC helps anyone who needs support in transmitting messages without natural speech.
As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nations points out, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Therefore, everyone deserves to be heard, and the way something is said does not determine its relevance. In consequence, AAC helps people worldwide through different strategies and methods.
Benefits of AAC
There are a lot of benefits when it comes to using AAC. First, because technology has developed so much in the last years, there are different apps for phones that help people with communication issues manage any situation that might occur so quickly because people take their phones everywhere.
The reasons someone should use AAC are as follows: it not only benefits the user of it, meaning the person with communicating problems, but it is also beneficial for the ones interacting with them in every aspect of life; it has a positive impact on language development and speech skills and competences; it helps individuals integrate into society, creating deep bonds between people such as friendships; it can represent a suitable and accessible platform for specialists and parents to work with children who have communication difficulties; usually high-tech AAC systems are very adaptable and are easy to personalize for each individual’s particular needs and preferences, and of course, it gives a chance for a more active social life in all fields: family, friendship, professional area; it enhances the quality of life for users both physically and mentally. Plus, no study has shown any stagnation determined by using AAC methods.
What people without AAC go through
People that do not use AAC may go through challenging experiences such as loneliness, social anxiety, inability to express themselves, frustration, and negative emotions because, for them, it is much more challenging to connect with others and communicate properly. Unfortunately, they might be misunderstood often, and children with complex communication needs are denied opportunities to participate in appropriate general education.
Every aspect of the life of individuals who do not use AAC methods might be much more complicated, starting from home life, the simple interactions with family members, and continuing with both social and professional fields, in which others tend not to be so patient and understanding as a family should.
So it might make people with speech difficulties feel uncomfortable socializing, which can determine them to get introverted and isolated. This can only make the situation worse because if individuals are not stimulated to connect with others and try to communicate, they will refuse to do it. Their skills will not improve, but it will mean an actual regress. Because no one wants such results, it is way better to use AAC. There are a lot of options for specific communication needs for each individual.
How does AAC help?
AAC apps have a variety of options for their users. For example, they can use symbols, words, expressions, or even complex phrases.
Using AAC tools makes a difference, especially for children, who are likely expected to improve their communication skills. Such devices are used in different therapies for kids to practice their language interactively. It is also a great strategy to make the conversations evolve a lot quicker than without it.
Also, in urgent circumstances, when individuals encounter communication deficits, AAC apps ease the process of them getting the help they need. They do not have to struggle anymore to tell people taking care of them what is going on or what they need. Especially being an emergency, time is priceless, and AAC helps save it.
Facts and Myths about AAC
Myth: "AAC is only for nonverbal individuals."
Fact: Actually, it is for anyone who does not have reliable verbal speech as any patient who does not have effective expressive communication.
Myth: "AAC hinders further speech development."
Fact: Especially for young children, it is the exact opposite. It enhances the development of spoken communication.
Myth: "AAC is the last resort in the speech-language intervention."
Fact: AAC can play essential roles in early communication development.
Using AAC tools makes a difference, especially for children, who are more likely to improve their communication skills. Such devices are used in different therapies for kids to practice their language interactively. It is also a great strategy to make the conversations evolve a lot quicker than they would without it.
Also, in critical situations, when individuals encounter communication deficits, AAC apps ease the process of them getting the help they need. They do not have to struggle anymore to tell people taking care of them what is going on or what they need. Especially when it comes to an emergency, time is priceless, and AAC helps save it.
A relevant example of an app, that aids individuals who experience difficulties in speech communication, is Fluent AAC. It has a wide range of pictures that should help anyone with the ability to use natural speech affected. It is easy to use and due to its expressive images, captivating for children.
People spend an impressive amount of their time interacting with others so communication is a huge part of each one’s life. How often did you hear the phrase “communication is the key”? It is not about what you say, but it is about how you say it, so AAC makes it easier for not so lucky people to deliver their messages in the right way, even if they do not use verbal communication.
Augmentative and alternative communication, no matter the age, is an effective rehabilitation approach to people with severe intellectual disabilities and impairments in linguistic expression, helping these patients increase their social participation while enhancing their self-esteem.
Researchers hypothesize that using an AAC device relieves the pressure of having to speak, allowing the individual to focus on communication and that the reduction in psychological stress makes speech production easier and others speculate that the model of spoken output facilitates an increase in speech production.
According to a 1997 U.S. Census Bureau report less than 10% of severely disabled individuals were employed. Despite the various barriers to employment, some AAC users achieve success in education and employment, though often in lower-paying jobs.
Several studies of young adults who had used AAC since childhood report a generally good quality of life, though few lived independently, or were in paid employment. The young adults used multiple modes of communication including aided and unaided AAC approaches.