Why do we encourage use of Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) to support verbal language development?

By: Ariel Schuman, CF-SLP

In Blischak’s et al. paper, researchers describe possible explanations as to how Alternative Augmentative Communication, or AAC, can support increases in natural speech production. Parents and caregivers may express concerns that using AAC will interfere with or negatively impact children’s verbal speech production. At the Boston Ability Center, we listen to families and understand these apprehensions, while also assuring parents that current research supports the positive effects of utilizing AAC. The following information details current research in support of AAC and language development.

Increased opportunity: AAC may be beneficial to individuals with complex communication needs, as it can provide clients with increased opportunities to participate in conversation and social interactions. When AAC is introduced early in intervention as a way to increase communicative opportunities, it can allow for increased access to language and literacy, which may support future speech production.

Decreased physical demand: In Blischak’s et al. article, researchers explain that while speech production may seem effortless, it is actually one of humanity’s most complex practices. Verbal language requires precise coordination of multiple neuromuscular processes. For individuals who have difficulty directing these movements, AAC can help to reduce some of the physical demands that speech production may require.

Increased development: Researchers continue to examine the use of AAC and the development of a child’s internal phonology, or system of speech sounds. It is hypothesized that both producing spoken language and utilizing AAC may activate brain processes that are employed for verbal speech production. It is possible that when a child hears herself produce speech output using an AAC device, this may assist in her own initiation of speech production. Additionally, alphabet knowledge, letter-sound correspondence, and the ability to manipulate speech sounds in words are necessary skills for learning to read. Current research suggests that the repeated experience with sound patterns provided by AAC use may support these skills.

Lastly, AAC often pairs graphic images with symbols that are spoken aloud via a device. The coupling of this visual representation and device’s speech output may help to strengthen children’s association between spoken words, symbols, and objects. Studies have supported the benefit of this graphic symbol learning in young children, as it may assist in the development of object comprehension.

Parent Feedback: Finally, Blischak’s et al. article includes Angelo’s (2000) survey of parents of children who used communication devices. In the responses collected, more than half of parents reported that their children communicated better with parents, professionals, and peers, were more independent, and had more social and educational opportunities.

At the Boston Ability Center, we encourage our clients who use AAC to bring their device to every session so we can support all aspects of their language development through learning, function, and fun!

For more information regarding AAC and language development, follow the link to the research article below: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0743461032000056478

Citation: DOREEN BLISCHAK, LINDA LOMBARDINO & ALICE DYSON (2003) Use of Speech-Generating Devices: In Support of Natural Speech, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19:1, 29-35, DOI: 10.1080/0743461032000056478

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