Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Evaluations

AAC Evaluations Chart a Course to Effective Communication


As a concerned school administrator, you know communication disorders can seriously hinder students’ educational success.

More than 1 in 10 children live with a communication disorder. An Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) evaluation is the first step in determining the student’s need, accessibility, device specifications, and vocabulary which can take a lot of time.

But such evaluations are time-consuming and expensive—often too expensive for school districts’ budgets to bear. Often, much high-tech AAC equipment such as such as tactile symbol communicators or voice prostheses, are priced beyond special education programs’ reach. Even short-term rental of such tools can be cost-prohibitive and complicated to arrange.

None of these realities change the fact that you must provide your students this evaluation, of course. But managing the funding remains a constant challenge. As speech-language pathologist José Ortiz wrote for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the terms “affordability” and “augmentative communication” rarely “appear in the same sentence, unless in the negative context (i.e. ‘augmentative communication is not affordable’).”

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’re working hard to change this status quo. We’re making AAC-trained speech-language pathologists more accessible and available to identify and meet students’ specific needs in convenient, cost-effective ways.

Thanks to PTS, you can do the right thing for your students without breaking your budget!

How Severe Communication Disorders Challenge Your Students

Students bridging the gap between their communication abilities and expressive language skills  might benefit from an AAC evaluation and services.

These services usually support people living with severe expressive or mixed receptive-expressive communication disorders. (“Expressive” refers to communicating one’s own ideas and feelings; “receptive,” to understanding other people’s communication.)

Some disorders—such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and Childhood apraxia of speech—are congenital. Others—such as aphasia or disorders resulting from traumatic brain injuries or ALS—are acquired.

Severe communication disorders affects how students engage in every single academic task. Common everyday tasks other students and teachers may take for granted, including:

  • Expressing needs, thoughts, and feelings,  orally or in writing
  • Comprehending what other people say or write
  • Participating in class discussions and meaningful conversations by sharing information or making comments
  • Asking questions about what they don’t understand
  • Solving problems
  • Self-Advocacy

How AAC Systems Improve Students’ Quality of Life

aac evaluationFor students living with communication disorders, AAC systems unlock new possibilities.

AAC systems may be unaided (using nothing but the student’s own body) or aided (using external equipment). All AAC systems integrate four components:

  • Visual-graphic symbols – Representations of thoughts and feelings. Examples include:
    • Pictures
    • Photographs
    • Line drawings
  • Communication aids – Tools and devices to express ideas, emotions, needs, and wants. Examples include:
    • Natural aids (facial expressions, gestures, sign language)
    • External tools (symbol boards, picture notebooks, or electronic solutions like speech-generating devices matching symbol selection with voice output)
  • Message selection techniques – Ways students choose what they want to express. Examples include:
    • Simple or complex partner-assisted scanning (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 a system’s elements to enhance communication. Examples include:
    • Topic setting, which gives AAC users a practical way to start and take turns in conversation
    • Word prediction, in which assistive devices anticipate what a communicator wants to say based on the first letter or letters input
    • Requesting word and message choices to work around vocabulary limitations

Depending upon students’ age and circumstances, AAC systems not only enhance communication but also can:

  • 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, these systems 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 Accessible and Affordable

Large caseloads. Shrinking budgets. Limited resources. Up against these constraints, 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.”

But PTS brings AAC assessments and interventions within reach of more schools. 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 obtaining and using AAC technologies. They’re fully equipped to help your students reach their highest communication potential.

Our speech-language pathologists’ multidisciplinary approach 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 such as teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, family members, and other IEP team members—who work with a student.
  • Weighing relevant factors like 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 essential training and consultation 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.

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