May is Better Hearing and Speech Month and what better way to celebrate than share my passion of working with families early in their AAC journey.
Children with complex communication needs should have every opportunity to access their environment that nondisabled peers have, this includes communication. Waiting until a child fails, especially when they have a known diagnosis only does the child and their family a disservice. Advocate early and often, this is what I believe and how I practice.
Introducing a total communication approach, accepting all forms of communication (words, signs, word approximations, pictures, speech generating devices), to early communication can decrease frustration, increase access, and support language development for a child who already faces challenges.
Is this easy, never. Sometimes parents are hesitant to using assistive technology with the assumption that it will hinder their child’s natural language/speech acquisition, when in fact research shows that the access and modeling of voice output systems increases a child’s intentional word-like vocalizations (Millar, Light, Schlosser, 2006).
Furthermore, parents think that introducing a high-tech device is considered screen time and will impact their child’s global development, when in fact AAC is not technically screen time, but is the child’s voice (Paul, 2021).
According to Paul (2021), here are some things parents should remember:
AAC is an effective way to improve the communication skills of children struggling to communicate, especially nonverbal students
Only a dedicated device should contain the AAC system
AAC devices should be easily accessible to the child – as similar as possible to a verbal person accessing their voice.
Other times, parents are reluctant to use or introduce AAC because they think we are giving up on verbal speech, when in fact it is the opposite.
AAC can be a tool for so many children to acquire verbal speech, or to clarify meaning if or when their verbal speech breaks down.
It is important to communicate to families that an SGD is a tool to help their child become verbal and while you are working on verbal speech, they have access to expanded vocabulary and grammar so that their language does not suffer while they increase speech capabilities.
It is still not easy- no child will ever pick up an SGD and start speaking in sentences. It is a journey, it begins with a comprehensive evaluation, parent coaching, and ongoing supports. But the journey is worth it to help a young child achieve autonomous communication.
Children introduced to a total communication approach early are more able to access the appropriate literacy curriculum, have access to a wider variety of vocabulary, increase both receptive and expressive language skills due to exposure and overall demonstrate higher levels of functional communication quicker and earlier than those who do not.
Millar, D. C., Light, J. C., & Schlosser, R. W. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: A research review. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49(2), 248–264. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021)
Paul, C. (2021, December 17). Screen Time for Children and AAC. Avaz Inc. https://avazapp.com/blog/screen-time-for-children-and-aac/
Amy Black-Ryel, M.A., CCC-SLP is a Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist and owner of Amy Black-Ryel Speech Therapy in Parker, CO. She is canine assisted with a facility dog, Jeanine (#k9speechie) and enjoys working with AAC users and their families. She has been working with young children for over 18 years with a focus in early intervention and preschool-aged children with complex communication needs.