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Alternative, augmentative communication

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe

Have you ever wondered how you could communicate without speech?

Do you know it is possible to communicate without speech?

Without using any words or formal sign language, turn to the person next to you and tell them what your favourite meal is.

How did that go? Were you able to get your message across?

Ways (other than speech) that are used to send a message from one person to another are referred to as alternative and augmentative communication.

We all use various ways to communicate.

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) is an umbrella term to describe various different means of communication that can add to or provide an alternative to verbal language.

‘Alternative’ means “instead of” while ‘augmentative’ means “as well as”.

The AAC interventions are multimodal (using a variety of modes or methods) and must make use of an individual’s full communication capabilities that include residual speech or signs, gestures, vocalisations and aided communication.
Types of AAC

There are broadly two types of AAC, namely unaided and aided AAC.

Unaided AAC basically refers to AACs that do not require any external equipment.

They rely on the user's body to convey messages.

Examples of unaided AAC systems are facial expressions, signing and gestures.

Aided AAC, on the other hand, refers to AACs that require some external equipment.

They require the use of tools or equipment in addition to the user's body.

Aided AACs can range from paper and pencil to communication books or boards to devices that produce voice output and/or written output.

As a matter of fact, every individual uses some form of AAC to either augment or alternate his or her speech.

Who benefits?

For various reasons, some people may not have a means of communication that meets their basic, social and educational needs.

The speech and language therapist has the job of finding alternative ways that persons with such difficulties can communicate functionally.

Verbal language may not be the means of communication available to that person at the time and may potentially never be.

For other people, communication may be successful in a specific situation or with very familiar people such as their mother, father, siblings but they may be unable to make themselves understood in other situations or with less familiar people.

This may be frustrating for them as their current means of communication may not be allowing them to fulfil their basic, social emotional and educational needs.

A speech and language therapist may consider that the person needs an alternative means of communication.

The AAC is used by individuals who have difficulties that are congenital (present from birth), developmental (children experience difficulties learning and acquiring language) or acquired (come after development, and are generally the result of things like traumatic brain injury or neurological condition).

Benefits of AAC?

The goal of AAC is functional communication.

Functional communication refers to the means by which an individual communicates his wants and needs and socialises with others spontaneously and independently.

The AAC has many benefits to the individual and their families. Appropriate ACC intervention helps to promote language development and facilitates speech development for the individual who uses it.

The AAC establishes a means to represent language and a means of social interaction and communication. It also enhances educational opportunities for individuals with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN).

It is important that AACs users are self-motivated to communicate and accepting of alternative methods to communicate.

Speech and language therapists work with other professionals to support people with AACs. Individuals in the life of persons using AACs are better placed to support them to communicate.

The writer is a Speech and Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana/Korle bu Teaching Hospital