By Kristen Lewandowski
October 26, 2021
“Communication is a basic human power that allows people to articulate their personal, educational, vocational, and social goals and to achieve their full potential. As a person develops communication competence, he or she meets this human need, realizes this human right, and attains this human power.”Janice C. Light
Graduate students in speech pathology access and make selections using a Tobii-Dynavox device to explore speech output in their Augmentative and Alternative Communication class.
Communication is a multimodal skill. We communicate using not just oral speech and language, but also with gestures, facial expressions, and body movement. Though oral speech and language is considered to be the most efficient and effective form of communication, many children, men, and women use augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) as a primary or supplementary form of communication. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) defines AAC as the use of a variety of techniques, including manual signs, gestures, tangible objects, line drawings, picture communication boards, and speech-generating devices, to supplement existing speech or used in place of speech that is absent or not functional. Research in the area of AAC indicates that approximately 5 million Americans and 97 million people worldwide could benefit from AAC use (Beukelman, D; Light, J, 2020). Developmental disabilities that result in impaired communication for children include cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and childhood apraxia of speech. Acquired conditions that may cause deficits in communication for children and adults include stroke and traumatic injury. Neurodegenerative disorders that may impair communication include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease.
Speech-language pathologists (SLP) play a significant role in not only supporting AAC users from assessment, to intervention, to competency; but also in advocating for supportive public policy and access to the world for AAC users. SLPs are just one part of an AAC assessment team that may also include physical and occupational therapists, vision and hearing specialists, social workers, medical physicians, educators, and AAC specialists. The most important goal of any AAC team is to generate a plan that is patient- and family-centered to ensure effective and efficient use of AAC for a child or adult, so that they can access their full potential.
Graduate and professional training in AAC is necessary to ensure that children, men, and women in need of communication support have access to appropriately trained healthcare providers. Higher education programs in speech-language pathology may provide academic and clinical education in the area of AAC. In the University of Florida’s Master’s program in speech pathology, they have a required course in AAC that includes hands-on experiences with AAC technology. During Fall semester 2021, Tobii-Dynavox, a leading provider of AAC programs, services, and technology, made an on-site visit to the class that included opportunities for graduate level SLP students to use speech-generating devices. The students were able to navigate the programs, produce speech output, and learn about eye gaze technology that will support their training and competence as SLPs who will likely treat individuals requiring AAC throughout their clinical career.
October is AAC Awareness Month and while AAC awareness is something that must be included regularly to ensure AAC users in our community are welcomed and have full access to their world, it is a great time to learn more about AAC and to identify AAC resources in your city.