Let's Talk AAC...

As an SLP with an interest in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), I have seen the joys and the challenges faced by my clients and their families. Behind each triumph, there were moments of fear. The path to AAC is long, winding, and messy. It's a learning process for all parties involved...clients, families, caregivers, teachers, friends, and therapists! But at the end of the day, functional communication is the goal...and it CAN be achieved.

The biggest barriers in my opinion...misconceptions and lack of information on the topic.

Are some families afraid of these devices? Yes.

Are they worried that using a device will stop the development of natural speech? Yes.

Do they believe their child will be teased or bullied because of the device? Yes.

Do they think it's going to be "too difficult" for their child to understand and operate the device? Yes.

One of the most crucial parts of AAC intervention is client and family education. As clinicians, we are given the tools and the evidence base to reach out to our families, provide the most current research and education, and allay their fears.

These parents are superheroes. They know their children better than we ever will. They know their quirks, they comfort them in their sadness, they celebrate them when they succeed, and they know the face their child makes when all they want is their polka dot Peppa Pig blanket. I watch these parents on a daily basis and hope that one day I can do at least a fraction of what they do for their kids. 

And that's what we have to remember...these parents are doing their very best. If they had the extra SLP compartment in their parenting toolbox, they would be able to see how much AAC can open the world up for a child. 

This is where we come in.

I try not to bombard my parents all at once with research and handouts and websites and blogs. I like to take a baby step approach. Parents need to be eased into the idea of AAC.

The first step? Dispelling the myths. 

Research shows that AAC can actually promote the development of speech and language. It is by no means a "last resort" during intervention- I like to incorporate it with so many of my kiddos to help "bridge the gap" and provide a means of functional communication until their language skills grow and blossom. 

There are no cognitive prerequisites to AAC. The exact connection between cognition and language skills hasn't truly been defined yet, therefore, it is so important to presume AAC user competence. Who are we to say someone can and cannot do something? How are we going to discover their strengths and skills if we already have a preconceived "set level" for our kiddos?  We want our kids to develop their own identity and share their opinions, dislikes, and fears. I have had some parents tell me, "I am afraid that if we give [my child] a brand new AAC system, he will act out and his behaviors will escalate because he won't know how to use it." I recently had a kiddo whose mom had these fears (and rightfully so- change is HARD!). During the third session of introducing his new device (a NovaChat 10), the battery ran out on his iPad. I asked him if he would like me to leave the new device at his desk for him to use instead of his iPad...he nodded his head "yes". As I walked away, I heard the all-too-familiar sound of an SGD say, "thank you". Cue the waterworks. I can confidently say that this kiddo has made leaps and bounds of progress with his new NovaChat, and I could not be more proud.

Thankfully, with AAC being displayed in a more public fashion (ABC's "Speechless" and iPad commercials), the "taboo" of using a device has been stifled. The use of technology is so universal and the new generation of kiddos has taken charge of leading us in this era. While bullying is on the rise, so is exposure to new ideas such as AAC. 

Parents, have no fear. You have the full support of the SLP community in your corner. Change takes time, but will have lasting effects on your child's communication :)

 

Resources

Emerson, A., & Dearden, J. (2013). The effect of using ‘full’ language when working with a child with autism: Adoptingthe ‘least dangerous assumption. Child Language Teaching & Therapy29(2), 233-244. doi: 10.1177/0265659012463370

Kasari, C, et al. (2014). Communication interventions for minimally verbal children with autism: a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(6), 635-646.

Romski, M. & and Sevcik, R.A. (2005). Augmentative communication and early intervention: myths and realities. Infants & Young Children, 18(3), 174-185.