More than 4 million Americans cannot reliably communicate with others using verbal speech because of a brain injury or other disability — and the prevalence and complexity of communication disorders increase with age.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can help children and adults communicate using other means, such as pictures, drawings or high-tech speech-generating devices, with the help of a speech language pathologist.
“Augmentative” refers to when used to supplement existing speech, and “alternative” when used in place of speech that is absent or not functional because of muscle weakness or loss of language from a stroke or other brain injury. AAC can also be useful for those with lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy.
“AAC can be life-changing, allowing a patient to express his or her needs when he or she has difficulty using words,” says Courtney Aivati, a speech language pathologist at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers. “It can assist with expression and bridge comprehension deficits.”
A speech-generating device uses a synthesized voice to speak for the patient. New technology voices have been created to represent a voice similar to that of the patient and can even use the patient’s existing voice in some cases. “If an individual has fine motor difficulties, AAC will often incorporate other strategies such as switches and even eye-scanning software to assist the patient in communication,” Aivati says.
She notes that some families are intimidated by high-tech speech-generating devices, as they fear it will decrease the speech their child or loved one currently has. However, research has shown that motivation and natural speech can increase with the use of AAC when taught simultaneously. Early intervention and implementation can enhance natural speech and increase vocabulary.
There are no prerequisites to using AAC to communicate; individuals with cognitive and motor deficits can use AAC. Intervention with AAC helps promote cognitive development, improve social development and aid in literacy growth.
“Using any form of AAC takes a team approach with family, caregivers, therapists and school personnel or community members,” says Aivati. “It can be a lifelong journey with challenges, but it is an extremely rewarding experience to provide a patient with not only their voice, but also their independence.”
Learn more about speech, voice and swallowing rehabilitation at Sharp HealthCare.