Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC for short, is a topic within the teaching industry that is becoming increasingly important. More and more teachers are discovering the benefits it offers both them and their students and are being proactive in deploying it in their classrooms.

But before we get stuck into the benefits of AAC, tips, and how to implement it, here’s a quick definition.

What does Augmentative and Alternative Communication mean?

AAC is a method of communication that replaces typical written and spoken communication. Many students struggle with either written or spoken language which, as you’d imagine, has a massive effect on learning capabilities. AAC is a way to combat these difficulties.

Who can benefit from Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

Essentially, any student who suffers every day with being able to understand and communicate information. This includes students who suffer from any number of disabilities or learning difficulties; such as developmental disabilities, autism, palsy, and other rare genetic syndromes. There is increasingly large support for parents and carers of those children in need of AAC.

In fact, as a teacher you may have already found that parents have come to you, asking for you to implement AAC in your classroom. Well, parents have every right to do so and you will likely start to hear more such requests as awareness of AAC grows.

When is a good time to start offering Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

Simply put, as early as possible! Outside of the classroom, there’s a good chance that students are already receiving language and speech therapy, and offering it in the classroom will only help advance their learning more quickly. There is a common misconception that many students will never be able to speak normally.

Once they learn how to use tools like picture cards or computers that produce speech, it’s easy to think that’s the ideal goal and to put less focus on further AAC. Well, research has found that, as children with disabilities begin to learn to tell people what they want through any form of communication, they are then in a much healthier position to learn to eventually speak.

How can parents get an AAC Evaluation?

If a parent comes to you asking about AAC, it is a good idea to direct them towards their school district. They can then offer an evaluation and assist them with finding all manner of speech and language therapy and support. The district should have a tailored Assistive Technology team who can complete the evaluation themselves.

Alternatively, many local universities and colleges offer speech and language therapy services. If their student already has such support, then the designated language pathologist is often best placed to offer further recommendations.

What is your role as a teacher?

An important point to remember is that the government has in place all kinds of support for children suffering from communication difficulties. Revisions to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act made in 1997 and 2004 increased the scope of support and the act aims to ensure all students have the exact support they need to learn most effectively in their classroom.

As such, it is the duty of the student’s educational team to ensure that any beneficial tools should be available to the student in their place of learning. Communication is a basic human right and one that children need in order to develop an effective education. And just because they start out struggling to speak, this doesn’t mean there aren’t other forms of communication available.

Communication and learning can easily start to take place through other methods, such as:
  • Pictures
  • Sign language
  • Voice output communication systems
  • Gesturing

Top tips on how to get the most from AAC

Here are a few final pieces of advice on how to ensure your students get the most benefit from AAC.

Make sure you are properly trained

First and foremost, ensure that you have the necessary skills and training for using various methods of AAC. Speak to your school about how you can receive additional training where necessary. Similarly, encourage all parents and carers of the child to receive the same training.

Practice what you preach

If your student is expected to communicate through a different method of communication, then ensure that you do so as well. Once again, also speak to the parents of the child to ensure they are using the methods outside of school, in everyday life.

Be patient

It can take a long time for students to become comfortable with using AAC techniques, so be patient and consistent.

Multi-modal communication is often most effective

Some forms of AAC can be quite slow and frustrating, such as using picture boards for a simple yes or no answers. So encourage your student to use a variety of different forms of communication. For example, using gesturing to say yes or no as this is often the quickest and easiest.

Encourage the student to initiate conversations

It is easy for students to only ever respond to questions you give them, rather than initiating conversations themselves. Encourage them to do so by using simple forms of communication like saying goodbye or hello to others. They should also request your attention and ask for objects using AAC.

As you can see, AAC is an increasingly effective way of increasing communication, learning and the opportunities that follow as a result. If you feel that your knowledge of AAC is still quite lacking, it’s best to speak to your school and other teachers and find out about any training opportunities available to you.