AAC: Strategies to support children with communication difficulties

Imagine if you couldn’t speak. How would you share your ideas, socialise with friends, buy things? Some things can’t be communicated easily through gestures and facial expressions.

Communication can be hard for some children; they have difficulties understanding speech or speaking clearly. A range of augmentative and alternative communication methods (also known as AAC) have been developed to help these children communicate at home, in school, or out in their community. They enhance speech and provide an alternative when a child hasn’t started talking yet, or when speech is not developing.

A child doesn’t have to be completely nonverbal to benefit from AAC. In fact, many children with some speech will communicate better when given these supports. They include things such as pointing to pictures in a communication book to tell a story at school or using a voice output communication aid to order something to eat at lunch.

There are two kinds of AAC:

Unaided AAC systems. These may include gestures, sign systems such as Key Word Sign, facial expressions, and vocalisations. They do not require additional equipment.

Aided AAC systems. These use some sort of low or high-tech tool or equipment. Low-tech  aids include communication charts or books and alphabet displays for pointing to letters to spell words. High-tech aids use computer software to generate speech.

People who need AAC tend to use a range of methods that should be personalised to meet individual needs. If your child isn’t able to communicate verbally, he or she will benefit from the introduction of AAC strategies to assist understanding, develop language skills, and support participation in daily activities. They also help reduce frustration that results from not being able to get a message across.

AAC helps a wide range of children, from a beginning communicator to the more advanced.

As well as fostering better understanding in the family, the strategies ultimately give children more opportunities to become confident communicators.

Some parents might worry that AAC will discourage their child from attempting to talk if other forms of communication are used beforehand. They may also be concerned that AAC will replace any natural speech ability. But research has found that AAC assists the development of communication—many children actually improve in their speech skills once they start using AAC.

Ultimately, our goal is to enrich the communication and social interaction of children with communication difficulties. AAC methods can help achieve this.

Thanks to Dr Liora Ballin for her assistance with this article. October is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month. More info here: http://www.agosci.org.au/newsevents.htm

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