All children have the right to express what they want and how they feel. But this is not always easy to do. Some children may not be able to speak clearly enough for everyone to understand them, while others may not be able to speak at all. For these children, telling people how they feel or what they want may be among the most difficult things they have to do. Through Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) parents and caregivers can help children with communication difficulties find ways to express what they are thinking, wanting, or needing.
What Is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?
Augmentative and Alternative communication (AAC) is any strategy that helps a child participate and communicate better at home and at school. Some strategies may be as simple as having a child point to a picture and use a gesture or begin with some basic sign language. For example, a child might point to a picture of juice and then point to herself, telling you she wants a drink of juice. As communication develops, the number, type, and complexity of the picture symbols can be expanded. These picture symbols can be put together on a “communication board” which can begin to allow a child to tell us what they want and need, and how they feel.
Other strategies are considered more “high-tech” and are somewhat more complicated than simple picture symbol communication boards. A child can press a button or picture on a communication device that actually says a pre-programmed word or message. This is called a voice output communication aid (VOCA) and is another way AAC can help a child communicate better at home, school, and in the community. For example, a child can press pictures of herself, drink, and juice, which creates a message spoken by the computer (“I want juice”) and is easily understood by everyone.
This type of computer is used much in the same way as the picture symbol communication board, however the pictures or words are programmed into the computerized communication device. There are many different types of voice output communication aids available, and all provide different options that can meet a child’s physical, cognitive, and communication needs.
Below are examples of communication strategies that children can use. The strategies are listed from easier to more difficult:
A child will communicate using a variety of strategies throughout her day. This is called multi-modal communication. Typically a child will want to use the fastest way to communicate her needs. For example, at home a child may use more gestures, but at school use her communication device, because the school staff does not understand the her gestures as well as her parents. Multi-modal communication is always encouraged.