Clarifying Misconceptions Regarding Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and Verbal Communication

Approximately 25-61% of language learners with a diagnosis of autism present with limited to no functional speech to communicate. Speech-language pathologists may recommend these individuals to utilize augmentative and alternative communication approaches to supplement verbal speech.

Unaided AAC consists of techniques that do not require the use of an external aid. Oftentimes, the individual may use his or her own body, as seen during use of gestures, manual signing and finger spelling. Aided AAC consists of techniques utilizing external tools and aids for communication. Examples of aided AAC include nonelectric communication boards, speech-generating devices with synthesized speech output and exchanged-based approaches (such as PECS.)

Fortunately, there are a plethora of options to consider for a child who may benefit from AAC. Families and parents often have concerns that AAC may hinder their child’s natural speech production. In their systematic review, Schlosser and Wendt (2008,) found no evidence of AAC intervention hindering speech production in children with autism, but observed gains in speech production do vary across individuals. We as speech language pathologists would like to emphasize the point that AAC has the power to give individuals with limited speech more words and more language and a way to communicate more than when using speech alone.

References: Schlosser, R. W., & Wendt, O. (2008). Effects of Augmentative and alternative communication intervention on speech production in children with Autism: A systematic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17(3), 212–230.

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