Common Misconceptions about Augmentative and Alternative Communication

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Many children who have an incredibly difficult time using spoken language will often learn to use other systems to augment their AACcommunication abilities. These other systems may include “high-tech” or speech-generating devices. They may also use “low-tech”, such as Picture Exchange Communication Systems, or PECS, in which a child gives his/her communicative partner a picture card to convey their wants and needs. Parents may have concerns about these augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. As a result, they often wonder how they will be used to help their child’s specific set of strengths and abilities.

There are several common misconceptions about these AAC systems:

  1. “If my child uses AAC, he/she won’t learn to speak”:
    1. Research has shown that just the opposite of this statement is true. The use of PECS or other “high-tech” devices can actually help improve a child’s spoken language output. Use of these systems provides increased exposure to communication and can increase vocalizations and improve overall speech abilities. While the strongest research shows that early intervention is best, older children may still show signs of improvement.
  2. “These programs are not specific for my child”:
    1. When working with a child who would benefit from AAC, a speech-language pathologist or behavior analyst will create a program that is tailored to each child’s individual needs. Motivation and positive reinforcement are incorporated into the program in order to support these new forms of communication. Clinicians work with families to find out what is most motivating in order to select an AAC system that is best for each child.
  3. “AAC is only for children with Autism”:
    1.  AAC intervention, whether high or low-tech, is beneficial as a means of communication across multiple populations. In addition to individuals with Autism, other individuals that may benefit from AAC include children with delayed language, Down Syndrome, apraxia as well as many others.

AAC can enhance your child’s ability to speak. Using these systems will help children to effectively communicate their wants and needs, if otherwise unable. If you have any questions about AAC systems or suspect that your child may benefit from an individualized AAC plan, a licensed speech-language pathologist can help!
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Jaclyn Goldman

Jaclyn Goldman, M.A., CCC-SLP, received her Master’s degree in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Speech-Language Pathology. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Psychology and Sociology in 2008. While at Illinois, Jaclyn gained experience working with children and adults of a wide range of ages and diagnoses in a variety of settings, including schools, clinics and hospitals. She has spent time working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district, and the University of Illinois Speech-Language Pathology Clinic. Jaclyn also worked as a research assistant in a laboratory studying language abilities in adults after stroke. She is especially interested in working with children diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and articulation/phonological disorders. She prides herself in implementing evidence-based practices, as well as educating and including families into the therapeutic process.

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