Augmentative and Alternative Communication
“Communication is the essence of human life”
Communication is used to exchange information to make requests, socialize and interact with others. Many people are unable to use speech and language as their primary mode to communicate with others; there are many possible causes for this including cerebral palsy, cerebrovascular accident, trauma, motor speech disorders or learning disability. Also, children with autism spectrum disorders, find verbal communication difficult because they do not understand how language works and may find it difficult to connect socially. These individuals communicate nonverbally using facial expressions, gestures, signs and different body positions. Both children and adults, who do not have sufficient speech to communicate, have access to a specialized area of assistive technology called Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
Augment means to add to or to enhance. For eg, people can augment speech by using gestures and eye pointing. An alternative means a choice or a substitute. People can use alternative communication to a speech by pointing to symbols etc. Communication means to send and receive messages to another person.
There are mainly 2 types of AAC
Unaided and Aided
Unaided type of AAC includes body language, sign language, gestures, etc, it doesn’t involve any equipment.
Aided type involves types of equipment that include low tech and high tech devices
AAC is a type of communication that includes a combination of gestures, eye pointing, vocalization and pointing to symbols as communication for people with fewer speech abilities.
There is a wide variety of devices used for communication and it ranges from simple to sophisticated. There is an array of devices on the market, and they are continually changing. Every individual need is different, and an AAC system is usually designed specifically for an individual child.
The following are some broad categories of devices
1. Object symbols– these are objects such as smaller replicas or parts of objects which represent an activity, object or person (for example, a set of keys represents that it’s time to go in the car)
2. Photos, drawings, symbols– these are used like object symbols to represent words in a visual way
3. Communication boards and displays– these are sets of photos, drawings, symbols or words that are used by an individual for communication
4. Chat books– these are small books (often a photo album) that may contain photos, pictures, symbols, words and messages about a person
5. Speech generating devices– communication boards or displays on a machine which speak a message when a particular button is pressed
6. Spelling– using an alphabet board or typing device to spell out words and messages.
Every individual needs multiple methods for expressing themselves. Ideally, should not have to rely solely on one method of communication.
The initial conversation with someone using AAC might be strange. The important thing is not to focus on the AAC system, not to worry about how it works, but to focus on the person using the AAC system and to listen to what they are saying.