Getting started with AAC and AT
Learn about Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and how it can help
What is AAC / What is AT?
How can I access my computer better?
Which is the right communication aid for me?
Get started with AAC Books
Four books have been designed to help families and professionals alike to get started with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). These have been edited by the Ace Centre, a UK charity providing information, advice and support for individuals who require technology to communicate.
Ace Centre Learning Courses to get startedView all >
Answering common queries and concerns.
This is a really common anxiety. However, all the research suggests that far from holding speech back, using AAC can even encourage it.
For example, when Diane Millar, Janice Light and Ralph Schlosser analysed the literature in 2006, they found that following the introduction of AAC, no cases demonstrated a decrease in speech production, some showed no change, and most demonstrated gains in speech production.
For some, use of AAC will be part of their journey towards speech. Whilst speech is developing, it can underpin the development of their language and communication skills. This means that language isn’t ‘put on hold’ until speech comes, resulting in long term deficits or delays. For others, use of AAC will be part of their lives forever. Either way, putting the work in now will only help someone to be a good communicator, however this is done, in the future.
If you would like to read some of the journal articles around this area, there is a great list of relevant articles here.
The world of communication aid technology has come on so far in the last few years that some people question whether there is still a role for low tech (or paper-based) AAC. There is! Paper based resources are wonderfully flexible and can be used in so many different contexts. They have the great advantage of not requiring batteries, so they are always available, and with no screen to smash, they are pretty durable too. For some, paper based resources are a great back up to their high tech system (for example, when their system runs out of battery or when they are somewhere where the high tech system can’t be used – like bed or bath), and for others they are their main method of communication.
In reality most people who use AAC communicate using a range of different approaches that includes their own mixture of low tech AAC, sounds (or some speech), gesture, signing, drawing, writing and high tech AAC. For example, someone might use their eyes to draw your attention to the box of cereal they would like you to pass them, make a sound to greet a friend, and use their high tech AAC device to have a discussion around an issue that is important to them. Beth explains this beautifully in her video.
Janice Light and David McNaughton are well known researchers in the field. They stress that technology in and of itself is not important – what’s important is the communication. Technology is just one tool among many that can help us to communicate.
We have also developed packages to support others to deliver training. See You Matter for more information.
Getting started with low tech AAC is all about finding a way of bringing AAC into daily activities that are relevant for you and your family. It’s about finding communication opportunities that are motivating and fun.
These charts are one small step on the journey towards developing a full communication system based around symbols.
The charts are there to be used by you. If the child begins to join in, that’s great, but don’t force them to use the symbols. They need to become really familiar with the symbols and how to use them. That can only happen by you using them yourself as you talk to your child. You can see an example of this in action here. You really are the key to getting started with AAC. Your skill at pointing to the symbols while talking to and playing with your child is what will get AAC going.
The example charts are designed to be accessed by pointing to the symbols. However, you could cut the symbols out and arrange them on an E-tran frame for eye pointing communicators. You can see an example of symbols being selected on an E-tran here. You could also scan through the symbols for those using listener mediated scanning, although make sure you are consistent in the order in which you offer the symbols.
The communication charts in the Resources sectionare available in three different symbols sets – PCS (Picture Communication Symbols), Widgit and Symbolstix. No one symbol set is ‘better’ than another, it’s more a case of looking around at what symbols (if any) are being used in the child’s environment and trying to use the same. Similarly if the child is using symbols within a communication app or communication aid, or some sort of recording software, it is helpful to choose the same symbols if possible.
There are a set of words that we use across huge numbers of different situations – these are known as ‘core’ words. These are words like ‘help’, ‘look’, ‘more’, ‘stop’, etc. Some of the charts simply contain core vocabulary, which means that you can use them in any situation. Other charts have been designed to show how charts can support specific activities. However, these charts all contain some core vocabulary too. Hopefully at least one of the activities will be something that appeals to your child.
Try and choose a chart that feels a step ahead of where you think your child is at. This will enable you to demonstrate the next steps as you use the chart. It’s what we do all the time with speaking children – we repeat back what they say, adding an extra word. We are all natural language teachers! You can see this in action here. You can always blank off a few symbols if it feels too much and gradually reveal them.
On a practical note, if you have access to a laminator, you may want to laminate the charts to protect them. If you do this, try and use matt laminator pouches as the glossy ones are rather prone to reflecting overhead lighting, which can make the symbols difficult to see.
Once you’ve all gained confidence in using a few of these example charts, the next step will be to begin to put together a communication book containing a wide range of core and topic vocabulary. For this you will need specialist software, although you may find that your child’s speech and language therapist and / or school has this and can help.
You will find much more information about all of the above issues in the new resource Getting Started with AAC: Using low tech symbol based systems with children. This resource also contains illustrations of all the charts on the website with guidance on how you might use them, and some video examples too.