Most people think of speech-language therapy as working with individuals to help improve their ability to speak. However, speech therapists also work with many people for whom relying only on speech is not an option. In these situations, a speech therapist may suggest the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
AAC is a very broad term, which encompasses any method of communication besides speech. The first A, “augmentative” refers to any form of communication used in addition to speech to improve communication. The second A, “alternative”, means a form of communication that is used instead of speech. The types of AAC available are as diverse as the people who use them. There are many high-tech AAC devices available, which often use computers to allow the user to communicate their ideas and thoughts via pictures, words, or computerized speech. There are also many low-tech or “no-tech” forms of AAC. This includes picture and letter boards, and languages that use gestures, like as American Sign Language. Some AAC devices rely on the user choosing letters and words to create sentences. Others use symbols or pictures instead of text.
Usually, a several people are involved in determining if a person would benefit from the use of AAC, including physicians, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers. This group will typically work with the potential AAC user and his or her family to decide whether AAC would be beneficial, and, if so, which type of AAC is best. After an AAC device is chosen, the person will work together with a speech-language pathologist to get accustomed to using it in everyday life and to learn to use the device in the most efficient, socially-friendly way possible.
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