Little Leaps Group Therapy transitioning to year-round school: What you should know
March 28, 2017
Functional Communication & ACC
May 18, 2015
What is Functional Communication and how does it relate to AAC?
I’ve hesitated with writing this post because I wanted to make sure I could do it appropriately and as easily understood as possible. However, I’ve seen a lot of new articles recently which address parent concerns with the use of AAC. This topic can be fairly in depth, but I will try to touch on it here!
For children with Autism (and other developmental delays), improving communication skills is often the biggest area of need. Many of these children are verbal and have a sort of “building block” for communication. Others, are non-verbal and basically starting at square one. Because communicating is a critical part of everyday life and functioning, the inability to do so can lead to a host of other difficulties. One of those being that the child is unable to get wants and needs (food, drink, toys, etc.) met. In addition, it can also be the sole reason for aggressive and self-injurious behaviors. To put it in perspective, how frustrated would you be if you were unable to ask for a drink of water, get a snack, or tell someone when you were sick? Probably extremely frustrated.
In a previous post, we gave resources and “what to do next?” ideas for newly diagnosed or delayed children. After it is determined that therapy is necessary, one of the first things that should be addressed is functionality. This is obviously no different in speech therapy. Early language goals should focus on words, phrases, and non-verbal communication (such as gestures) in order to increase functional skills.
So, what happens when verbal output is limited? This is where AAC comes in.
AAC stands for Augmentative Alternative Communication and is actually two different things. In short, Augmentative Communication enhances existing communication that a person may have, whereas Alternative Communication gives them a different approach for communication. The biggest myth regarding AAC is that it replaces verbal communication and many parents are extremely hesitant to try these methods. While it is true that a handful of children may never verbally speak, many BEGIN to verbalize after AAC is introduced. In short, AAC gives these kids a voice and a chance to communicate.
As mentioned earlier, AAC can be very in depth. There are hundreds of methods that can be classified as AAC. Some are low-tech and some are high-tech. Listed below are just a few. It is important to remember that while these are often highly successful, there are usually specific procedures in teaching them.
Picture Exchange Communication System
Letter boards for children who can spell out words
Speech Generating Devices
Buttons and Switches (often used to make choices or answer yes/no)
As with anything else, there are pros and cons for each type of alternative communication. Choosing an appropriate one for your child is not always easy. Each child is different and there are a lot of different factors that go into choosing a method. These include physical impairments, cognitive status, behavior, and current level of language functioning. Some school districts are able to do an assessment in order to determine the best path. Occasionally (with a lot of paperwork, proof, and assessments), insurance companies will cover higher tech devices.
Whatever the outcome may be, it is important to remember that although AAC is being implemented, it is NOT a sign of failure for you or your child. You are giving them a voice, even if it is just temporary, and it does not mean that the ultimate goal of spoken language is being forgotten.