What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?
Imagine being locked inside a building alone. You look outside to the sunny day observing others having fun. You, however, cannot figure out how to open the front door to join your friends and family. After days in loneliness, despair and frustration, you realize there is a side door to the building. This door is much easier to open for you: Finally, freedom.
Those who are not able to communicate verbally often report this feeling of being trapped. The good news is there is another door, one that can allow them to communicate. This door is called “augmentative and alternative communication.’’
What does that term mean?
Augmentative and alternative communication offers new ways to communicate without having to rely solely on talking, either supplementing one’s speaking abilities or compensating for a lack of speech. People of all ages who have trouble with speaking or language skills rely on this method to effectively communicate.
This method can be defined as any nonverbal communication system; some such systems use complex technology while others can be simple hand gestures. Often, patients must rely solely on these methods to make all their ideas, wants and needs known.
Augmentative and alternative communication systems can be organized into two categories: Unaided and aided. Unaided systems rely solely on the body; aided systems use other physical materials or devices to aid in communication. Aided systems can range from low-tech items such as picture cards to advanced technologies with eye-gaze detection and voice output.
- Sign language
- Body language
- Eye gaze
- Facial expressions
- Picture or alphabet boards
- Switches or buttons that produce a message
- Choice cards
- Advanced devices like touchscreen readers and eye-gaze trackers
The right device will encourage an individual to be an active participant in conversations versus a passive observer.
Who can benefit?
Those who benefit from these devices span all ages (even children!) and may have speech or language impairment due to a developmental disorder, injury or a progressive neurological disorder. These may be patients with disorders such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, ALS and Parkinson’s disease. Strokes, traumatic brain injury and cancer can also cause issues with verbal communication.
It is important to remember these methods do not inhibit speech. On the contrary, they allow easier access to more complex language and can lead to greater speech development and therapeutic outcomes.
How do I get started?
Loss of speech, whether sudden or gradual, can be overwhelming. Our speech-language pathologists, who specialize in communication, can help you or your loved one open that side door and get back to living life. We are here every step of the way, from identifying language issues, to helping choose the right system for you and guiding you through language-building exercises to improve overall communication.
Call 504-842-4348 to schedule an evaluation with one of our Ochsner Therapy & Wellness speech-language pathologists.