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May is Better Speech and Hearing Month and here at CI we are so excited to celebrate all the unique ways individuals communicate! One form of communication we love to teach is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) but it can often be misunderstood.

What is it?

AAC is a broad term that encompasses any form of communication other than verbal speech that is used to express wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas. AAC devices can either be low-tech, meaning the system does not require batteries (e.g., American Sign language, communication boards), or high-tech, meaning it does require technology/batteries (e.g., iPad+ speech programs). These devices can either be used to supplement verbal language (writing, ASL, etc.) or replace spoken language.

Who needs it?

Many people may use AAC, ranging from childhood to the elderly, who have mild to severe speech difficulties. There are many benefits to using AAC devices. Most importantly it promotes successful and meaningful communication with others. It helps give people a voice.

Although AAC is a fantastic tool to communicate with, there are many misconceptions and myths to be debunked. Below are 5 of the most common misconceptions about AAC.

Myth: Use of AAC will prevent my child from developing speech
Reality:Many people think that due to the voice output on speech generating devices the device is speaking for the child reducing motivation for the child to speak. However due to AAC systems reducing physical and social demands on the child it does the opposite. Furthermore, research has been completed studying this exact thing. The results have shown that speech production increases because they receive multi-sensory (visual, verbal, aural, tactile) feedback from the device. Giving them a constant model of a word for the kid to hear. If they can use speech they will use it, because it is more efficient.

Myth: AAC is used as a last resort
Reality: Many people believe that AAC should only be considered after you try everything else. However, the earlier you introduce your child to AAC the sooner they will get the support they need to acquire skills for communication. It’s important to remember that children communicate in various ways, it doesn’t have to be strictly verbal language. AAC devices are one way for children to gain a voice and communicate with the world around them.

Myth: AAC devices are only for kids who are non-speaking.

Reality: AAC is helpful for kids who don’t speak, however, it is not limited to this population. As stated above, some forms of AAC are used to supplement speech. The goal is for all children to be successful communicators. For some children, it may be their primary form of communication. For others, it may be secondary, using the device to clarify their message. For example, if a child uses spoken language at home, but isn’t understood by new people, AAC may be used to help clarify the message. Everyone uses a form of AAC on a daily basis (facial expression, body language, texting, etc). It is more widespread than many people think.

Myth: AAC devices are just for expressing wants and needs
Reality: Having a conversation with someone is much more than stating basic needs and wants. All kids need to be able to ask for help, add comments to a conversation, and protest if they don’t like something. AAC devices allow children to have conversations with others successfully. Many devices have pages for adjectives, objects, and verbs that allow for children to have meaningful conversations with others.

Myth: Only speech language pathologists (SLP) can do AAC with my child, not their teachers
Reality: We need a team to help children have successful conversations. Although an SLP will do the original assessment, we are not with your child 24/7. Sessions involve parent coaching to help them use the device in various environments and train others (teachers, family, friends). Teachers use visuals all the time, and AAC can be a wonderful tool in the classroom for all kids.