Spooky season is upon us! October is a time for all things spooky.….not only spooky Halloween costumes and haunted houses, but also spooky stories and movies.
Since October is also AAC Awareness Month, it is only fitting to find and capture the Myth Man who spreads false information about AAC to families and professionals of those with complex communication needs and therefore, interfering with the AAC implementation process.
The Myth Man Detective is here to investigate and solve Myth Man cases and free all voices to be heard loud and clear. The Myth Man Detective uses clinical research from Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention Myths and Realities by MaryAnn Romski PhD, CCC-SLP and Rose A. Sevcik, PhD (2005) as evidence to solve Myth Man Cases.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the Myth Man cases that the Myth Man Detective has on his schedule to investigate each week through the month of October.
Myth Man Case 1: AAC is a last resort in intervention
While AAC was considered to be the last option is explore after all of the other intervention options have been deemed to be ineffective if a child had not developed speech by the time they were eight years old when AAC was first being used as a strategy in intervention, several studies have found that AAC can not only reduce existing communication and language deficits, but it can also prevent such deficits from developing.
Therefore, it is crucial that AAC is explored and introduced with children who have communication and/or language deficits as early as possible. Remember that clinicians are not “giving up” when they recommend AAC for a child and when they use it during treatment: they are in fact doing the opposite!
Myth Man Case 2: AAC stops or impedes further speech development
Many parents and some clinicians of individuals with complex communication needs believe that AAC will become the individual’s main communication method and that it will decrease their motivation to use their speech. However, many empirical research studies have shown that AAC IMPROVES speech skills.
Fluent communication via speech AND AAC should be coexistent speech-language intervention goals.
Myth Man Case 3: Children must have certain skills and meet a minimum age requirement to use and benefit from AAC
Historically, individuals with complex communication needs who demonstrated suboptimal cognitive and sensory and/or motor skills deemed necessary for AAC use were considered to be unqualified for AAC intervention and use.
However, research shows that AAC related interventions and tools are effective when implemented with babies, toddlers, and preschool-aged children who have a range of severe disabilities.
AAC is for everyone regardless of age and sensorimotor skills.
With recent technological advances, AAC systems are available and accessible to everyone who needs one and anybody who would benefit from AAC. There are many options available for electronic speech-generating AAC systems with varying levels of operational requirements to meet the individual’s current motor skills. Many of the AAC systems also have adjustable settings/features to meet current skill levels AND accommodate multiple access methods if wanted or needed and to encourage fine motor skill development.
AAC is for ALL individuals of any age and all degrees of sensorimotor skills.
Myth Man Case 4: Electronic speech-generating AAC systems are only for individuals with intact cognition
Historically, individuals with complex communication needs who demonstrated suboptimal cognitive skills deemed necessary for AAC use were considered to be unqualified for AAC intervention and use. However, since language has such a big impact on children’s cognitive skill development, we, as investigators, have decided that nobody is unqualified to use and benefit from AAC.
AAC is for everyone regardless of cognitive skills.
If we restrict a child’s access to AAC and they do not have any expressive language via speech, the child is given an even greater disadvantage in their developmental progress because they don’t have a way to demonstrate nor develop their cognitive skills and therefore it is not possible to accurately assess their cognitive skills prior to AAC intervention.
Language skill development through AAC is crucial to the child’s cognitive skill development. Furthermore, with recent technological advances, AAC systems are available and accessible to everyone who needs one and anybody who would benefit from AAC.
There are many options available for electronic speech-generating AAC systems with varying levels of language and operational requirements to meet the individual’s current symbolic representation and language skills. Many of the AAC systems also have adjustable settings/features to meet current symbolic representation and language skill levels AND encourage learning and growth.
Therefore, AAC is for individuals of any and all levels of cognitive skills.
Myth Man Monday Case 5: There is a representational hierarchy of symbols from objects to written words (orthography) which children with complex communication needs must gradually climb
Families and educators may not believe that orthography and other abstract symbols are appropriate for young children, especially those with complex communication needs to be exposed to or used by them. Instead, they believe that children with complex communication needs need to progress through a representational hierarchy of symbols starting with real objects and progressing to photos, line drawings, to more complex representations such as picture symbols (e.g. PCS symbols, SymbolStix symbols, etc.) to written words (i.e. orthography).
However, research shows that abstract symbols and iconic symbols are perceived to function the same by children in early phases of development. Low expectations is a significant contributing factor to underdeveloped literacy skills in many individuals with complex communication needs.
In reality, early exposure to abstract symbols fosters linguistic and symbolic representation skill development and sets high expectations for children with complex communication needs to learn and grow to functionally use abstract symbols functionally.
Abstract symbols, specifically the alphabet, is the only symbol set that holds the power to allow individuals with complex communication needs to precisely communicate with any and all communication partners and in any and all environments and contexts (Soto & Zangari, 2009). Therefore, children with complex communication needs DO NOT need to progress through a representational hierarchy in order to use abstract symbols in their AAC system. Instead, they need to be exposed to abstract symbols starting at a young age and expected to learn to functionally use such symbols to communicate.
While these myths are a few of the most common myths about AAC that interfere with the implementation process, there is not enough time in AAC Awareness Month for the Myth Man Detective to investigate and solve all possible Myth Man cases.
However, the Myth Man Detective encourages you to take a look at your beliefs and practices surrounding AAC to make sure that there are no Myth Men hindering your AAC assessment and implementation processes.
How many Myth Men will YOU eradicate this month?
Romski, M., & Sevcik, R. A. (2005). Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention Myths and Realities. Infants & Young Children, 18(3), 174–185. https://doi.org/10.1097/00001163-200507000-00002
Soto, G., & Zangari, C. (2009). Practically Speaking: Language, Literacy & Academic Development for Students with AAC Needs. Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
Hannah Foley, B.A. is the Content Creator at Forbes AAC. She has over four years of experience in AAC education and implementation, in addition to over 24 years of personal experience using AAC and AT tools to navigate society as someone who has a (dis)ability. Hannah is dedicated to providing quality training and implementation resources to support teams to facilitate the integration of AAC into all of life's activities to maximize the communicative skill development and meaningful engagement of those who use AAC.