Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) refers to all of the ways that people communicate outside of spoken words. AAC is for everyone, and is used to supplement or fully replace verbal communication by people of all ages and walks of life including Speech Delays, Language Delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Complex Communication Needs, Anxiety and more.

With sign language, talking buttons, picture books, core vocabulary boards, iPad apps and Speech- Generating Devices (SGDs) to name only a few, there is an infinite range of AAC options to uniquely suit each person and classroom that is utilizing them. Picture cards and visuals are aiding students’ understanding of language and transitions across the day, with “first/then” picture boards and visual schedules lessening anxieties and increasing independence. Low-tech communication books and boards are being used to point to pictures and combine words into sentences during Language Arts, Social Studies, Math and Science. Wristbands and lanyards with picture activity options and sentence strips are supporting team games between classmates during gym and at recess. Pre- recordable talking buttons are being passed from students to parents to share highlights and successes from their days, while apps on high-tech SGDs are spelling words, predicting sentences and storing fully customized stories and memories to be shared with friends and strangers alike.

It’s time for communication in the classroom to go beyond simply making requests and meeting basic needs. It can take time and effort to find the ideal combination, but with their own individualized collection of high and low-tech AAC options, students can be empowered in requesting, commenting, expressing feelings, protesting, being silly, and actively engaging with the academic world in whatever capacity they choose. The preschooler can point to “Yucky- no thank you!” on their picture placemat when offered raisins at snack time, or jump into circle time to share their special item by proudly displaying an eyeball visual with the word “LOOK!”.
The second grader can tell a fellow dog- enthused classmate about their new puppy by pointing to words on their board, “Dogs -now- I -have- two”, to make a new best friend! The high-schooler can ask their crush out on a first date, or tell the teacher when they need extra help with integrals, while the post-secondary student can use their iPad to generate pre-recorded messages for each slide in their presentation on Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology.

We often hear “there is no escape from technology”, however for many students this 24/7 access to technology is what gives them their voice- at home, in the community, and in their classrooms. AAC in the classroom is connecting students, building their confidence, and supporting them in taking an active lead in their learning every single day. In this case, there is thankfully no escape from technology. The universality of technology is finally starting to fill the gaps in universal communication, and it’s starting in the classrooms.

If you think that you or someone you know could benefit from a form of Alternative and Augmentative Communication, please reach out your educational support teams to learn more!

Written by Kirsten Stagg