Like most professions, we speech pathologists love jargon. And one of the terms we bandy about – often assuming people know what we’re talking about – is “alternative and augmentative communication” or “AAC”.
Researchers have forged careers debating, defining and re-defining AAC; and the field is technical and (with good reason) politically charged. For our purposes, AAC is simply a therapy approach that seeks to increase a person’s ability to communicate and participate in his or her preferred activities, often using more than one way of communicating (Glennan, 2000). These abilities may include:
- any existing speech or vocalisations;
- manual signs (like AUSLAN or Key Word Signing);
- communication boards using popular software like Boardmaker;
- pictures, e.g. PECS; and
- speech-output communication devices, e.g. (i) iPads with apps such as Sono Flex and Proloquo2go; and (ii) other devices running proprietary programs such as Minspeak.
Many parents – understandably – resist AAC in the early stages of treatment, preferring speech pathologists to focus on improving their child’s speech. But it doesn’t need to be an “either/or” decision. And research suggests there’s no reason to be concerned about the effect of AAC on speech development. Here’s what the research tells us:
- For children, AAC (including manual signing and devices) does not slow or stop speech development, but may in fact speed up the development of speech (Cress, 2003; Romski, Sevcik & Hyatt, 2003).
- Speech devices can benefit children with speech delays or disorders, regardless of whether they also have cognitive impairments. This used to be a bigger issue in the days before iPads, when devices tended to be both expensive and complicated to use. Now there are some terrific apps including Board Builder and TapSpeak that can assist children with severe intellectual impairments.
- AAC can benefit children of all ages, including infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers.
- FAQ: In what order and at what age should my child have learned his/her speech sound consonants?
- 10 common speech error patterns seen in children of 3-5 years of age – and when you should be concerned
- Which words should I teach first?
- Principles we follow when assessing a toddler’s language
- What can we do to prepare pre-schoolers to read?
- Expressive language – syntax and past tense
- Do kids learn to string sentences together by listening to baby talk?
Key source: Romski & Sevcik. (2005). Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention: Myths and Realities. Infants & Young Children, 18(3), 174–185.
Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP).