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What To Know About AAC

What is Communication?

Defining the intricacies of communication–as communication represents such a broad phenomenon–is undeniably difficult. Any definition considered to be valid must take into account the nuances involved in communication, and the innumerable ways in which it is carried out. According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior” (2021, para. 1A). In a therapeutic context, communication is defined as, “an exchange between the patient and provider using verbal and non-verbal methods. The ultimate goal of this communication is to help the patient overcome some form of emotional or psychological distress” (Sharma & Gupta, 2022, para. 7).

What is AAC/ACD?

AAC stands for Augmented and Alternative Communication, classifying a type of communication. ACD stands for Assistive Communication Device, classifying a type of device. As defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, assistive communication devices (AAC or ACD) are any non-tech, low-tech, or high-tech physical aid in the production of communication. These devices most commonly, “...make use of picture-based representation of concepts and often provide a multi-modal interface that combines images, text, and speech audio. Most assistive devices also enable phrase or sentence composition by assembling words in a linear fashion” (Nikolova, 2010, p. 2).

Who Uses it?

Usually, verbal communication is facilitated through sound output registered by a hearing intake. Often, this means the human voice being received by the human ear. 

However, every person is not able to use their vocal chords in the same way. The majority of individuals develop skills over time that enable them to vocally produce stimulus recognized by others as a common form of verbal language. Others may have the capacity to physically create this stimulus, but not within an organized manner that is broadly recognized semantically. This is labeled as a Communication Disorder, and often referred to as "Non-Verbal". 

The usage of the language non-verbal likely originated as early as the 1850s. Because this word has statically existed for centuries, while the scientific world around it changes, this term has become out of date. The descriptor non-verbal not only generalizes differing groups of people into one inaccurate category, it also thrusts an inaccurate label on to individuals who may not identify themselves with this descriptor. Many individuals have come to self identify with the term "Non-Speaking" instead.

Using the term non-speaking results in more accurate descriptions and personal identifications. Additionally, the term “nonverbal communication” is frequently used in literature to describe gestures and facial expressions, not as a description of personal status or abilities. This results in barriers to access research and resources that are potentially clinically relevant for both therapist and client. Because of this, throughout this website, the term non-speaking will be used.

Music Therapists and AAC

Therapists, especially Music Therapists, are not often educated about this subject. Music therapy is a healthcare field wherein music experiences and the myriad relationships formed between client(s), board-certified music therapist(s), and music activates health-oriented changes (Bruscia, 2014). Client experiences in music therapy are impacted significantly by a range of musical, relational, and environmental qualities and practices of the music therapist. To learn more, select "Music Therapists & AAC" from the navigation bar. 

What Devices Are Available?

There are two primary categories of ACDs, unaided and aided communication. Unaided communication includes: facial expressions, body language, gestures, and sign language. Unaided communication encompasses any form of alternative/augmented communication that does not require a physical aid (AssistiveWare, 2023). Aided communication includes: symbol boards, choice cards, communication books, Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) systems, keyboards/alphabet charts, speech-generating devices, and AAC apps. All aided communication involves physical aids that help to facilitate or produce communication. To find a catalog of devices, select "Devices" from the navigation bar.

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