Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Evaluations
AAC Evaluations Chart a Course to Effective Communication
When communication disorders keep students from hearing, speaking, or writing effectively in school and isolate them from teachers and peers, those students’ education suffers.
As a concerned school administrator, helping these students adapt and achieve in the classroom isn’t just your job. It’s a mission you care about. But accessing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) services from speech/language pathologists can be costly and slow to access with traditional providers.
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’re changing this status quo. We’re making AAC-trained speech/language pathologists available to school districts to identify and meet students’ specific needs in convenient, cost-effective ways. Our approach means you don’t have to choose between serving your students and meeting your budget.
Challenges Severe Communication Disorders Pose to Students
Anyone struggling to bridge a gap between her or his communication abilities and communication needs is a candidate for AAC intervention. But most commonly, AAC services support people living with severe expressive or mixed receptive-expressive communication disorders. (“Expressive” refers to communicating one’s own ideas and feelings; “receptive” refers to understanding other people’s communication.)
More than 1 in 10 children live with a communication disorder. Some disorders are congenital (from birth), such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and developmental apraxia of speech. Other disorders are acquired (such as aphasia, or disorders resulting from traumatic brain injuries or ALS). Disorders may be temporary or chronic.
Severe communication disorders increase the difficulty students experience with educational tasks non-affected students and teachers may take for granted, including:
- Expressing their thoughts, their feelings, and even their basic needs, orally or in writing
- Comprehending what other people say or write
- Participating in class discussions
- Asking questions about things they don’t understand
- Solving problems
- Holding meaningful conversations
And because human relationships depend on communication, communication disorders can hurt students’ social development. “Children as young as preschool age have been found to use communicative competence as a measure of peer popularity,” write Dr. Elaine Hitchcock and colleagues.
Students living with communication disorders tend to be judged negatively, especially when disorders are severe. These judgments’ psychological effects can last a lifetime.
What AAC Systems Are and How They Improve Students’ Quality of Life
For students who live with communication disorders and who are unable to use expressive language, AAC systems unlock wide new worlds of possibility. These systems empower students by focusing and building on what they can do, not what they can’t.
AAC systems may be unaided (using nothing but the student’s own body) or aided (using external equipment). All AAC systems contain four components:
- Visual-graphic symbols – Representations of thoughts and feelings. Examples include:
- line drawings
- printed words
- Communication aids – Tools and devices used to express ideas, emotions, needs, and wants. Examples include:
- natural aids like facial expressions, gestures, or sign language
- external tools like symbol boards, picture notebooks, or electronic solutions like speech-generating devices (SGDs) that match symbol selection with voice output
- Message selection techniques – Ways the student chooses what he or she wants to express. Examples include:
- simple or complex partner-assisted scanning (in which the student chooses from possibilities presented by a partner)
- direct selection through techniques like touching or eye gaze
- encoding (for instance, using numbers to represent pre-determined messages)
- Strategies – Systematic methods for using all of an AAC system’s elements to enhance communication.
Giving students effective ways to express themselves is the main goal of AAC systems. But depending upon students’ age and circumstances, these systems can also:
- Encourage cognitive development
- Stimulate natural speech development or redevelopment
- Enlarge vocabulary and provide a stronger foundation for literacy
- Decrease frustrated, challenging reactions to communication breakdowns
- Increase social interaction
- Nurture a sense of personal freedom and independence.
As Dr. Richard Dressler and colleagues write, AAC systems can help children “express their most basic wants and needs, contribute to the interactions and conversations around them, and feel empowered as… contributing member[s] of society.”
PTS Makes AAC Evaluation and Implementation More Accessible and Affordable
Large caseloads. Shrinking budgets. Limited resources. Schools often have trouble giving students the AAC services they need and federal law mandates, starting with “a functional evaluation of the child in the child’s customary environment.”
PTS’ services include bringing AAC assessments and interventions within reach of more schools in New Jersey, Delaware, and southeastern Pennsylvania. We’re offering access to our extensive network of trained and credentialed AAC speech/language pathologists on an as-needed, contracted basis.
PTS’ AAC specialists possess academic expertise in communication disorders and practical experience in obtaining and using AAC technologies. They are fully equipped to help your students reach their highest communication potential.
Our speech/language pathologists’ multidisciplinary approach to evaluating students and implementing solutions for their benefit involves:
- Observing and interacting with students to assess their current communication level, visual and auditory perceptual skills, motor skills, and cognitive processes.
- Seeking input from key individuals—teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, family members, and other IEP team members—who work with a student.
- Weighing such relevant factors as medical diagnoses, medications, recent changes in communication and behavior, and the student’s interests and personality.
- Choosing assistive technologies or trial devices with an eye toward available supports as well as what has and hasn’t worked in past interventions.
- Providing teachers and family the training and consultation essential for establishing students’ consistently successful communication.
Make sure your district meets the needs of your students who live with severe communication disorders. Find out how as-needed access to PTS’ specialists makes AAC evaluation and implementation easier and more affordable. Call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.