Special Needs Kids Can Get a Boost from AAC Devices in the Home

Sign Language for Special Needs Kids

Image source: Start-american-sign-language.com

Speech therapy techniques like Speech Buddies can help special needs kids achieve clear articulation, but what about those who are nonverbal or those who have extremely limited speech abilities? Your child’s speech-language pathologist (SLP) might recommend the use of an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. An AAC device is any tool that facilitates nonverbal communication. An AAC device may be an aided device, which means that it is an actual, physical object like an electronic reader or the picture exchange communication system (PECS). Or an AAC device may be unaided, which means that the child uses facial expressions, gestures, or sign language to communicate. Talk to your child’s speech therapist about whether an AAC device may be right for him.

Does an AAC Device Discourage Verbal Language?

This is one of the most common concerns people have about AAC devices for special needs kids, and the answer is an emphatic “No!” In fact, AAC devices can encourage communication, including vocalizations. Plus, they also greatly reduce your child’s frustration over his reduced abilities to communicate and allow him to interact with the world around him. Speech therapy techniques often require tools. Just like your mechanic needs the proper tools to fix your transmission, your child can use an AAC device as a tool to facilitate communication.

How Can Parents Choose the Right AAC Device for Their Child?

There is no “one size fits all” solution where AAC devices are concerned. Work closely with your child’s speech therapist and, if applicable, his Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to determine the appropriate AAC device or devices that would best suit his needs. Some factors to consider include your child’s current level of functioning, whether he can read and write, and whether he can memorize the symbols that could be used with an electronic reader device. If your child can read and write or work with symbols, he might prefer an electronic reader device.

Another potential factor to consider is that some special needs kids have hypotonia, or poor muscle tone. This means that the child may have trouble gripping and manipulating certain devices. A system of gestures may work better in these instances. As well, consider your child’s personal preferences. If he enthusiastically embraces the use of PECS instead of sign language, he’ll be more likely to use it for communication.

How Can an AAC Device Best Be Used Within the Home?

Once an AAC device has been decided upon, your child must be trained to use it. He’ll likely need some encouragement to remember to carry it around with him (in the case of an aided device) and to use it regularly to communicate his needs and wants.

It’s also important to use the AAC device properly to encourage the development of verbal communication. You and the speech therapist will need to help your child associate spoken words with the meanings. For example, if your child holds up a PECS card with a picture of a glass of milk on it, make a big deal over saying the word “milk” a lot. Say something like, “Okay, Alex, you would like some milk? Would you like regular milk or chocolate milk? Would you like a snack with your milk? Milk is so yummy! Can you say the /m/ sound with me by pressing your lips together?”

As well, encourage your child to use his AAC device for more than just basic needs. It can also be used to express sentiments. Ask your child open-ended questions like, “What did you like best about that book?” Remember to expand upon his responses and use language modeling to increase his understanding of communication.

Parent's Guide to Speech & Communication Challenges
Find your speech solution
Speech Therapy Techniques