Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a term covering ways to supplement or replace speech for people with impairments in the production/comprehension of language.
"No Tech", "Low Tech", or "High Tech" solutions exist. AAC is not "pick one", but all three approaches can be used.
"No Tech" Examples:
Pros of "No Tech": Highly portable
- Gestures / Sign Language (such as ASL) can communicate either simple concepts (such as touching mouth for hunger) or complex thoughts.
- Partner-Assisted Scanning: (helper goes through choices, and individual indicates choice through vocalization, glance, movement etc.)
Cons of "No Tech": Interpreter always needed
"Low Tech" Examples:
- Picture Boards: a person looks at or touches pictures (on a board, a binder, etc.) to indicate a word or concept.
- Simple Sound Playback: Devices play prerecorded speech clips when pressed
Pros: Simple, Cheap, Replaceable
Cons: Bulky, Limited vocabulary
"High Tech" Examples
Speech-Generating software running on a computing device creates audible speech at the user's direction.
Pros: Extremely flexible, natural conversation ability
Cons: Expensive, Fragile, Learning Curve
High tech AAC devices use software to display a grid of buttons.
Pressing a button can speak a word or phrase immediately, or begin building a complete sentence. These devices are also known as speech-generating devices or speech prosthetics.
AAC devices are not magic; simply possessing one does not provide communication.
Intensive training (of both the user, as well as family/teachers/SLPs, etc.) is required to for the device to be used effectively.
There are many ways someone could control a high tech AAC device.
- Mouse: Buttons are selected via a regular mouse or keyboard.
- Pointer: Using a pointer attached to the body (head, arm, shoulder, etc.) a button is selected
- Eyegaze: Cameras track where the eyes are looking to select items
- Switch: Movement of a single muscle on a switch selects an item
- Tracker: Buttons are selected by moving or tilting the head or other body part.
- Touch: Using a touchscreen, the user selects a button with a finger
Some AACs are available in Spanish or other languages.
- Language Based: These systems build sentences from individual words. Allows for very nuanced speech and high vocabulary; harder to learn.
- Phrase Based:These systems build sentences from phrases and clauses. (e.g. "I want to go to..."). Allows for quick (limited) communication, easier to learn.
- Consumer Devices: Software runs on a tablet or PC. This way is much cheaper, but might not be as durable or have as many ways to access.
- Dedicated Devices: Software runs on a single-purpose device. Much more expensive, but more likely to be covered through insurance. Devices are more durable and have more access options.