Bringing up AAC with parents is not always easy. Sometimes parents do not always know what types of AAC systems are out there and how using different AAC systems can help increase their child’s communication with others. There are often a lot of myths associated with using AAC systems which may impact families wanting their child to have an AAC system. Talking with parents about the benefits of using AAC systems at home and breaking down some of those ugly myths about AAC is our job.
One of the biggest myths I often encounter when talking with parents is if their child uses AAC he/she will not learn how to “speak”. This is definitely not true. There is no research showing that using AAC limits or prevents a person from developing oral speech. In fact, research shows that AAC often stimulates verbal speech in individuals with the potential to be a least partially verbal. I find when students hear the voice output on AAC devices they often try to imitate some of the sounds and words the device makes. A couple years ago, I had a preschooler with limited verbal speech. I actually thought perhaps he might be a child who would not use verbal speech to communicate with others. He had a lot of great receptive language skills but at the time he did not appear super motivated to communicate and I had only heard him produce a few verbal approximations of words. I had a GoTalk 20 AAC device I programmed for him to use with many of those core words we previously discussed. This student loved to push the buttons and I saw how much more engaged he was to communicate with me and others. The student tried to imitate the words on the device and that was the most I had ever heard him talk. I knew he had more to say then what was on the GoTalk so I referred him for a high tech AAC device. He received a Nova Chat as a trial device and by the end of the trial he was verbally communicating in 3+ word utterances. Currently, the student does not attend my school anymore but when he left in Kindergarten he no longer used an AAC device and relied on his verbal speech for communication. I couldn’t believe how much progress this student made in such a limited time which is not what always happens. In my experience, most of my students make more vocalizations or produce some verbal speech after receiving an AAC device. However, this particular student became a verbal communicator which was amazing. It is important to remember just because a student uses an AAC device does not mean he/she will become completely verbal but what I do want to communicate with parents is it will not impair their child’s ability to become verbal if the child has the potential to be a verbal communicator.
Another myth is that using AAC devices will limit a person’s language development which also is not true. In fact, using AAC will provide students a means to acquire new vocabulary and learn how to formulate longer, novel utterances. Sometimes our so called verbal students may only be communicating in single word utterances, present with limited vocabulary, or use ecolalic speech. Using an AAC device allows the student to combine words and phrases together, as well as, use more vocabulary terms/concepts. I have students who can verbally say a few words but are now combing 3+ word utterances together on their AAC devices. Even if those utterances are not grammatically correct they are able to communicate more effectively than previously. I can work on grammar later as their language continues to develop. Everyone wants to communicate and if someone does not have an effective means to communicate it can be very frustrating and often limit/prevent progress with language development. I tell parents they don’t want their students to develop inappropriate behaviors in order to communicate with others. If I don’t have an effective way to communicate what I want with others I’m either going to either get angry or stop trying to communicate. We don’t want our students to give up on communication.
Other myths are a student has to be a certain age or have a certain cognitive level. Rather than waiting and using AAC as a last resort let’s be proactive. I tell parents I want to use AAC to help with language and speech development before communication fails or a person loses interest in communication. I want the parents to know I’m advocating for their child to get an AAC device because I think their child has potential to develop more language not that this is the last chance we have for their child in terms of communicating with others. If their child does not have an effective means of communication then I recommend supplementing their communication with an AAC device. We can incorporate AAC while teaching language skills. It does not have to be one or the other but rather both together. AAC should not be seen as a negative and that the child failed. The earlier we can start using AAC the better.
One caution I also like to make sure I communicate with parents is that just because a student receives an AAC system that does not mean that immediately all the student’s communication problems will go away. The student needs to be taught how to use the device and needs direct instruction to foster those communication skills. Using AAC will help facilitate speech and language development and help an individual effectively communicate with others when provided the necessary direct instruction and supports. Just having an AAC device sit next to a student does nothing. We need to train parents and others working with the student how to use that communication device. Communication does not just happen once a week during a student’s speech-language therapy session. The success of a student’s AAC system is also dependent on the responsiveness of the communication partners. If individuals working with the students are not responsive when the student uses the device or we are not modeling (aided language stimulation) how to use the device then the student using the AAC device is not likely to progress. We need to help educate parents about AAC and make sure everyone is on same page to help our students succeed.