Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can be any form of communication that is not verbal speech, ranging from no-tech (facial expressions, gestures, paper images) to low-tech (communication buttons), to high-tech (apps and speech-generating devices).
People who have difficulty communicating verbally may use one or many forms of AAC to communicate. As communication partners, it is OUR job to acknowledge and respond to their messages.
How do we do this?
1. Follow their lead
If you do not understand what a child is gesturing for, have them guide you to their preferred item/object. Say, “Can you show me?”
Just like children need to hear verbal words many times before using them, AAC users need to see alternative communication modeled many times before they’re expected to use it. When using an AAC device, select the appropriate keyword. For example, if you are asking the child if they need “help”. Select the “help” icon on their board or device when asking. This helps them associate the meaning with the symbol/word.
3. Provide choices
While holding the items, ask “do you want water or milk?” Watch for the child’s response. Sometimes they may not understand or be able to point to an object. In that case, follow their eye gaze. Then respond, “Okay, you want the milk.” The child will begin to understand that their gesture or eye contact communicated what they wanted.
4. Easy access
If you know your child loves Cheerios, save the empty that cereal box, cut out the label, and stick it on the pantry door. You can teach your child to use the image to communicate wanting Cheerios in the future!
5. Be patient
Not being able to talk can often lead to frustration or an increase in the child’s behaviors. As a caregiver, this can be very challenging. Try providing the child with multiple means to communicate (gestures, choices, pictures, apps etc.). Let them know you understand they are trying to communicate.