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The Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies describe the way people supplement their communication when they can not speak clearly enough to be understood by those around them. These strategies include a wide range of communication methods ranging from gestures and communication boards to assistive communication devices. The basic premise of AAC is:

"That a person communicates is much more important than how s/he communicates"

Is there a need for Augmentative & Alternative Communication Intervention in South Africa?

Internationally it is estimated that 1,5-2% of the general school population is in need of AAC services. In addition, it is known that approximately 20% of all people with little or no functional speech is cognitively within normal limits.

In South Africa the prevalence of little or no functional speech (LNFS) seems much higher than in other Western countries: A study within the greater Pretoria, for example, showed that 39% of all children in schools for children with severe disabilities could be regarded as having LNFS.

What is it like to have a severe communication disorder?

These quotes illustrate the drastic effects that the inability to communicate can have on an individuals life.

"I know what it is like to be fed potatoes all my life. After all, potatoes are such good basic food for everyday, easy to fix in many different ways. I hate potatoes! But then, who knew that but me? I know what it is like to be dressed in reds and blues when my favourite colours are mint greens, lemon yellows, and pinks. I mean can you really imagine?" - Sara Brothers (1991, p.59)
"If you want to know what it is like to be unable to speak, there is a way. Go to a party and don't talk. Play mute. Use your hands if you wish but don't use paper and pencil. Paper and pencil are not always handy for a mute person. Here is what you will find: people talking; talking behind, beside, around, over under and through, and even for you. But never with you. You are ignored until finally you feel like a piece of furniture." - Rick Creech (Musselwhite & St Louis, 1988, p104)

Who can benefit from Augmentative or Alternative Communication?

  • Anyone who is not able to communicate effectively using speech (Non Verbal)
  • People with intellectual disabilities
  • Anyone who has some speech but requires an augmentative device for purposes of writing or carrying on long conversations.

Those who would benefit from AAC include:

  • People who are physically disabled
  • People with autism spectrum disorder
  • People with developmental delays
  • People with dual sensory impairments e.g vision and hearing

Why use Augmentative or Alternative forms of Communication?

To give every individual ways to express needs and wants, to share their feelings, thoughts and ideas to those with whom they interact.

What are some of the facts about Augmentative & Alternative Communication?

AAC communication is a multi-disciplinary field and involves the user, parents as well professionals who they are working with e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy or physiotherapy.

Assessment should be ongoing to reevaluate and monitor the specific needs of the individual client.

The use of augmentative or alternative communication is multi-modal in that no one system will be adequate for all communication needs in all settings/environments.

In order for intervention to be effective it should be a collaborative effort with the client and all those with whom s/he interacts.

Published by Robyn White

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