Tuesday, September 13, 2011

But he has some words....

AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication.  This commonly used acronym is an umbrella term that encompasses any mode of communication that is used to supplement or used in lieu of verbal communication.  A person’s AAC system could be as simple as a letter board that he/she uses when a new communication partner cannot understand what the person said to an elaborate, high tech communication device accessed via eye gaze.  Each individuals AAC system is different and typically involves different modes of communication dependent on situation and familiarity.  This post could go on for pages if I tried to explain what AAC is or can be, but the first question we, the SLP and family, needs to ask is if the individual being serviced would benefit from an AAC system.   The answer is yes, if the child is not able to meet all communicative function with a variety of communication partners in all settings.  What that system looks like… well that is something to discuss with your child’s SLP, teachers, etc.  For the sake of this post, I want to focus specifically on children with autism with some verbal output and if AAC is ever appropriate for these children.
In my opinion if your child is 3-5 years old and not yet using words spontaneously/independently, it is time to look into creating an AAC system for your child.  This may take the form of PECS, a communication device, sign, whatever.  That is something that you will determine based on your child’s abilities and family needs.  What is important is that you think about getting something in place.  I think that it can be obvious for many individuals that if your child is 4 and still not saying a thing that you may want to consider an AAC device.  But what if your child is 5, and says ‘I want cookie’ when you bring out the cookie and say “What do you want?”  Is that spontaneous/independent communication?  I realize that you have probably worked really hard to get your child to this point and you should be proud of you and your child’s achievement!  Your child is definitely requesting, but is relying on either the visual prompt of the cookie or the verbal prompt of “What do you want?”  If your child has been at this place for a while, it may be time to think about an AAC device. 

For whatever reason, many children with autism are better able to initiate requests and become stronger independent communicators with an AAC device.  I don’t know if the device itself serves as a prompt to help the child initiate communication or I have read adults with autism say that the sensory experience of speech is not worth the end result so they communicate with devices instead.  Whatever the case, it is important for you (and your SLP) to constantly be evaluating the type of communication your child is using and if he/she is truly able to express wants/needs and comments spontaneously and independently.  If not, bring up the possible need for an AAC system/device to your therapist and see what he/she thinks.  You know your child best and will forever be their biggest advocate.  Make your SLP think and consider all options… we want what’s best for your child too.  Sometimes we just may need help seeing what that may be!
-Megan M.S. CCC-SLP

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