The Southern California Augmentative and Alternative Communication Network... a support group for professional development, problem solving, leadership, mentoring, and training in the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to develop communication in non-speaking and minimally verbal individuals in the Southern California Region.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Providing AAC Doesn't Mean Giving Up on Speech (from yAACk)

The yAACk website is not new, but never gets old. Their article "Does AAC impede natural speech?—and other fears"  dispels myths and gives valuable perspective on the topic of speech and AAC. 

"Even when a child's communication impairments are interfering with his or her cognitive, social and emotional development, some parents and practitioners are reluctant to introduce AAC. This is very understandable since AAC-based communication is frequently viewed as the solution of last resort, condemning a child to a lifetime of abnormal and limited communication. It is considered the end of all hope of natural speech, to be used only after years of failed speech therapy. (Berry, 1987Mirenda & Schuler, 1988).

The fact is that AAC does not represent this gloomy future. Many adult users become extremely proficient with their AAC, and are able to communicate anything they want to, in any circumstance they find themselves. Nor does it mean the end of any hope of speech development. Children are frequently provided with communication programs in which speech is a major component. (SeeMultimodal communication.) In fact, since natural speech is the ideal mode of communication in many circumstances, it behooves a young child to continue with speech therapy along with AAC in order to develop his or her speaking ability to its fullest potential. In fact, numerous studies have found that the introduction of AAC frequently has a positive affect on speech; children who are given AAC often develop speech faster than they would have otherwise (Bodine & Beukelman, 1991Van Tatenhove, 1987).

On the other hand, while it may be appropriate to continue to focus on speech, it is unfair to leave a child with little or no means of communicating effectively while undergoing years of speech therapy. A child who is unable to communicate effectively is unable to participate meaningfully in many activities, and is at great risk for delays in cognitive, social and emotional development. (See When does a child need AAC?) Thus, it is crucial that he or she be provided with at least some ability to communicate that offers some immediate control over people and the environment, and can be expanded or modified as necessary to meet the needs of the future.

A child with severely impaired speech that lacks the ability to adequately express himself is at risk of being judged as intellectually disabled. Teachers and parents often judge a child with significant communication impairments as socially and cognitively less capable than their peers. This results in lowered academic expectations and, frequently, decreased academic achievement (Rice, 1993). AAC may help in reducing the discrepancy, both real and imagined, between the child’s actual and perceived cognitive and social capabilities."

Any AAC system should accommodate a variety of modes of communication because multimodal communication accomplishes the following.
  • It increases efficiency, effectiveness and speed.
  • It allows children to work on different methods of communication at the same time.
  • It allows children to continue to work on speech, while still providing them with alternative methods of communicating.
  • It decreases reliance on any single type of communication method, which is important because devices can be lost, broken or unavailable.
  • It allows a child to adjust his or her communication method to fit the requirements of different partners and situations, such as home versus school versus community.
  • It is a more natural way of communicating. Persons who communicate in the typical manner utilize more than just speech.
  • It decreases the vocabulary requirements on any single communication method. 

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