Bonnie Fulks, M.S., CCC-SLP                                                                                                      
Speech-Language Pathologist

What is High-Tech AAC?

AAC is Augmentative and Alternative Communication. High-tech AAC refers to computerized devices such as dedicated communication devices or Apple iPads that use communication applications, apps. The dedicated devices are obtained from various companies such as Prentke-Romich Company (PRC) and TobiiDyanvox. There are many communication apps available on the iPad such as “Lamp”, “Compass”, “ProLoQuo2Go”, “Touch Chat”, and “SonoFlex”.

How is High-Tech AAC used?

One important thing to remember when choosing a device is how the child or adult is going to access the device. High tech devices use several types of access such as direct selection meaning touching the desired icon, head pointing, scanning, or Eye Gaze which is eye tracking to make selections. The iPad uses direction selection. The devices can be used while holding the device, while it is on the table, or while it is mounted to a wheelchair.

AAC communicators learn how to use their device to communicate in a similar way that children learn to communicate verbally. The vocabulary on the device is learned first and then they learn to combine icons to form phrases and sentences. Learning to be a full communicator using a device takes practice and time.

Who benefits from using High-Tech AAC?

Both children and adults can benefit from high-tech AAC. The common adult diagnoses include ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Aphasia, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s Disease, and Apraxia of Speech. Common child diagnoses can include Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, and Rett Syndrome.

What are common myths surrounding AAC?

  1. “My child is not ready for AAC.” There are no known cognitive or other prerequisites that are necessary for a child to use AAC.
  2. “My child will not talk.” or “My child will get lazy and only want to use AAC.” AAC does NOT impede the development of natural speech. The introduction of AAC often helps to develop speech faster than if AAC is not used (Bodine & Beukelman, 1991; Van Tatenhove, 1987). AAC is a visual representation.
  3. “AAC will only increase expressive language.” AAC can improve receptive language as well with the visual and auditory supports it provides. You do NOT have to prove the receptive language ability before introducing AAC.
  4. “My patient talks so he/she does not need AAC.” AAC can improve unintelligible speech (auditory/visual component).  AAC can increase sentence length and improve formulation of sentences.  AAC increases communication skills (augment=increase).
  5. “If we use AAC, we are giving up on speech.”                                                             

a.  The AAC system does NOT replace the patient’s current communication modes.  It “augments” or increases his/her current skills.

b.  The earlier the better!

c.  When do not communicate using only one mode of communication. We use words, gestures, body language, facial expressions, etc. We select methods of communication depending on our location, communication partner, and what we are trying to communicate. AAC helps augment these methods of communication.

What can a parent(s) do to find out more?

A parent can learn more about high-tech AAC by speaking with their child’s speech-language pathologist. TobiiDynavox and PRC both have websites with further information regarding high-tech AAC devices. There are also many informative blogs that address many topics on high-tech AAC.

How does someone obtain a high-tech AAC device?

A device is obtained through an AAC evaluation with a speech language pathologist, SLP. During the assessment, multiple types of AAC are trialed and various high-tech devices are trialed to determine if a high-tech device is appropriate for the individual. If it is appropriate, then the SLP will help determine which high tech device and language system on the device is appropriate. The SLP will then write a report with a detailed explanation of the evaluation to submit to insurance and the company that the device is being purchased from. If approved, insurance will typically pay some or all of the costs of the device. This process generally takes 4-6 weeks from the date of the evaluation before the device is received.

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