Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is probably more prevalent than you might think. Indeed, the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) points out that everyone uses multiple forms of communication, such as speech, a shared glance, text, gestures, facial expressions, and touch. In addition, some people use sign language, symbols, pictures, and speech-generating devices as part of their AAC system.
October is AAC Awareness Month, and this year’s timely theme is Get Out, Speak Up and Break Through the Screen in a Recovering World. This year, we’d like to encourage clinicians, researchers, and academics to reflect on how they can raise both awareness and acceptance of AAC through their work and beyond.
Below, we’re highlighting articles with two variations on the theme. First, we’ll look at an article from the recently published Perspectives forum on how AAC is perceived and accepted—both within the discipline of communication sciences and disorders and by the general public. Then, we’ll look at an article from ASJLP that highlights recent developments in AAC to address research gaps and to provide services via telepractice.
Including People Who Use AAC
Communication Choice and Agency: Thinking Beyond Spoken Language for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum [Perspectives forum]: Autistic individuals1 who use AAC describe a “forced communication choice” (Donaldson et al., 2021) toward verbal language as a child. The articles in this forum encourage clinicians to fully partner with autistic1 individuals and their parents and to explore all communication options when working with this population.
How Are Stakeholders With Autism Spectrum Disorder Included in the Social Validation of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Research? A Scoping Review: Researchers aim for social validation in the research process in order to decrease bias, increase efficacy, and prevent harm. However, this 2021 review by Kirsty Bastable and colleagues (a) shows that research into the social validation of AAC has historically not included individuals with complex communication needs and (b) presents strategies to include these individuals in future research.
Current Gaps in AAC Research
Children With Cortical Visual Impairment and Complex Communication Needs: Identifying Gaps Between Needs and Current Practice: Children who use AAC are a heterogenous group with a wide range of diagnoses and disabilities, from moderate to severe. This survey by Sarah W. Blackstone and colleagues (2021) examines the needs of children with cortical visual impairment—the most common type of visual impairment—and explains how AAC, which is primarily visually based, is available to them.
Talk Like Me: Supporting Students Who Are African American Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Children who are African American and use AAC haven’t been studied much in the current research. This article by Mollie G. Mindel (2021) looks at evidence-based practices already being implemented for supporting African Americans with communication disorders and how these practices can be extrapolated to support children who use AAC.
AAC and Telepractice
Supporting Aided Augmentative and Alternative Communication Interventions for Individuals With Complex Communication Needs via Telepractice: The use of telepractice in AAC is relatively new and, as such, remains sparsely studied in the literature. This tutorial by Jessica Simacek and colleagues (2021) provides strategies and resources specific to aided AAC interventions through telepractice, using evidence provided by telepractice teams at three university sites.
The Effects of Telepractice to Support Family Members in Modeling a Speech-Generating Device in the Home: There is little research on “whole family” intervention to support children using AAC, including methods of modeling and service delivery via telepractice. This study by Sarah N. Douglas and colleagues (2021) showed that all four family members could model AAC better after coaching sessions via telepractice—and that the child increased their independent communication and AAC use as a result of the family’s involvement.
Expanding Availability of Speech-Generating Device Evaluation and Treatment to People With Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (pALS) Through Telepractice: Perspectives of pALS and Communication Partners: Telepractice is incredibly important to patients who are geographically remote, are mobility impaired, are unable to leave their home, or experience fatigue with travel. In this article, Amy Roman and colleagues (2021) discuss the advantages of using telepractice when providing speech-generating device (SGD) evaluation and training services to people with ALS and show that each person with ALS was given an appropriate SGD by their AAC specialist.
More AAC Resources
We hope that these articles can keep you updated on the latest research in AAC and show how you can make a difference. By sharing information on AAC and including people with AAC in their own care plans and in your research, you can ensure that people with AAC are represented.
If you’re looking for more articles on AAC, the ASHA Journals program has you covered: You can find 40 years of AAC coverage in the ASHA Journals Topic page on AAC. Clinicians who work in AAC may also be interested in affiliating with Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. In addition to gaining access to a community of professionals with an interest in AAC, SIG 12 affiliates also receive access to an archive of more than 500 articles on AAC in Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups.
Bastable, K., Klopper, S., Samuels, A., & Dada, S. (2021). How are stakeholders with autism spectrum disorder included in the social validation of augmentative and alternative communication research? A scoping review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(2), 817–832. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_AJSLP-20-00182
Blackstone, S. W., Luo, F., Canchola, J., Wilkinson, K. M., & Roman-Lantzy, C. (2021). Children with cortical visual impairment and complex communication needs: Identifying gaps between needs and current practice. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 52(2), 612–629. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_LSHSS-20-00088
Donaldson, A. L., endever* corbin, & McCoy, J. (2021). Everyone deserves AAC”: Preliminary study of the experiences of speaking autistic adults who use augmentative and alternative communication. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 6(2), 315–326. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_PERSP-20-00220
Douglas, S. N., Biggs, E. E., Meadan, H., & Bagawan, A. (2021). The effects of telepractice to support family members in modeling a speech-generating device in the home. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(2), 817–832. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_AJSLP-20-00230
Gernsbacher, M. (2017). The use of person-first language in scholarly writing may accentuate stigma [Editorial Perspective]. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(7), 859–861. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12706
Mindel, M. G. (2021). Talk like me: Supporting students who are African American using augmentative and alternative communication. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 5(6), 1586–1592. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_PERSP-20-00041
Roman, A., Baylor, C., Johnson, L., & Barton, M. (2021). Expanding availability of speech-generating device evaluation and treatment to people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (pALS) through telepractice: Perspectives of pALS and communication partners. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 2098–2114. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_AJSLP-20-00334
Simacek, J., Wattanawongwan, S., Reichle, J., Hyppa-Martin, J., Pierson, L., & Dimian, A. F. (2021). Supporting aided augmentative and alternative communication interventions for individuals with complex communication needs via telepractice: A tutorial. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_PERSP-21-00050
¹Intentional use of identity-first language; see Gernsbacher (2017) for further information. ASHA adheres to the style guide of the American Psychological Association (APA) in using person-first or identity-first language to describe attributes and diagnoses of individuals or groups of people. When there is a preference, ASHA honors that preference. Listen to this episode of the ASHA Voices podcast for more on the use of identity-first language and person-first language in autism.