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What are augmentative and alternative communication devices?

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Any parent of a child with moderate to severe speech problems will know about communication challenges – but today, technological advances are helping children with disabilities to unlock their voices.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is when a child or adult uses something other than speech to communicate. 

But if we break AAC down, what does it mean?

Augment means to enhance, for example, augmenting speech by using body language, gestures and pointing.

Alternative means doing something differently – an alternative communication to speech by pointing to symbols and signing.

Communication is sending and receiving messages to and from other people.

Image shows Aidan's talker with dinosuar book in the background and ipad talker in front
The augmentative and alternative communication device is a tool to promote communication and speech

At Kites Children’s Therapy, we use a variety of devices to help children who are non-verbal or with other communication challenges to get their message across.

There are different types of AAC. High-tech and low-tech options. High-tech involves the use of electronic devices and advanced technology to facilitate communication. These systems require batteries or electricity and are more complex than low-tech AAC. Low-tech AAC refers to communication aids that do not require advanced electronic technology and are simple, inexpensive and easy to use.

A high-tech option would use:

An iPad can be specifically tailored to the child’s needs, with software downloaded and matched to their requirements. It has a durable case to protect it from damage if it gets dropped and integrated speakers for better projection of sounds when generating speech.

Speech pathology and augmentative and alternative communication

Speech Pathologists work in partnership with the child, school team, parents and other therapy team to model the use of augmentative and alternative communication devices and other supports to make their learning meaningful to reach their goals.

AAC can provide an additional way of learning because of visual prompts and repetition of words.

“Using AAC devices can support a child to communicate their needs and thoughts in a fun and engaging way, so they can participate with others in social interactions and activities,” she explains.

Devices like the iPad encourages communication and conversation through:

  • Visual aids with symbols and pictures representing words, the meaning of words (vocabulary and semantic groupings/organisations) and phrases. The child can tap on the images to construct sentences and communicate.
  • The targeting of vocabulary, focussing on specific themes such as colours, foods, weather, activities, etc., and introducing them step by step.
  • Modelling, repetition and questioning by the Speech Pathologist can help the child develop their vocabulary and word phonetics to encourage their understanding of sounds and literacy development with the school and home team. 
  •  Listening back to words or sentences with a voice synthesiser (voice output) to hear them vocalised.

Using a book or other props with an AAC

Integrating a book with a topic that sparks the child’s interest, is one way that a Speech Pathologist could use the AAC in a speech therapy session. The therapist might read the story and gesticulated with their hands, using hand signs to represent the main or key words in a sentence at the same time as the words are spoken. To indicate which dinosaurs are dancing, the child could point to the dinosaurs on their iPad and be encouraged to group them into a section on the device. 

Image show a Speech Pathologist holding a dinosaur book and a child looking at the book and an augmentative and alternative communication device
A Speech Pathologist uses an iPad AAC to link with the book topic being read in a Speech Therapy session
Image shows a speech pathologist looking at a child with the magnetic book and augmentative and alternative communication device in front of him
Other props can be used to encourage the child to use their AAC device to form short sentences

You can use NDIS funding from the Core Support Consumables budget to purchase augmentative and alternative communication devices. It may require a letter of support from a therapist. NDIS requires a trial of the software and device in advance.

Early intervention and consistent use of AAC will make it more effective to support communication development in children with disabilities. It is highly beneficial for children:

  • With limited or no speech abilities giving them a way to express their wants, needs, thoughts and emotions.
  • Who are autistic and prefer picture-based systems to communicate and engage with others.
  • With intellectual disabilities. They may find it challenging to develop spoken language skills.
  • Who have language impairment and who will benefit from AAC devices to adopt better communication skills.

How to get support with augmentative and alternative communication devices

Our Speech Pathology Service has a team of experienced speech pathologists who can work with children of all ages to promote better speech, language and communication skills.

Children who have difficulty swallowing can also benefit from this service. Contact our team today to get the support your child needs. 

Enquire about AAC support services



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