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What is Augmentative Communication?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Augmentative communication is a form of communication designed for people with speech impairments. Historically, support for augmentative communication was provided primarily to people who lacked cognitive impairments, but in the late 20th century, the value of such communication systems for people with developmental disabilities was recognized. Using augmentative communication can help someone at any level of cognitive ability enjoy more freedom, and the ability to communicate with other people, to do everything from writing books to indicating that it's time for a meal.

For people without speech impairments, speech comes naturally, and it may be hard to imagine another mode of communication. In fact, augmentative communication, also known as alternative communication or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), is extremely diverse. One form of augmentative communication, sign language, is familiar to many people.

Other forms can include the use of communication books, which feature images of concepts which people can point to, along with letterboards, which people use to spell out words. Letterboarding can also be used with written communication books in which people point to common words, and predictive technology, which allows someone to indicate the letters at a start of the word and then provides prompts for possible words. Augmentative communication can also include the development of codes, the use of numbers to symbolize concepts, and various gestures.

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People who are born with speech impairments may learn augmentative communication as they grow up. Individuals with acquired impairments such as impairments due to stroke, degenerative nerve disease, and so forth can receive training in how to use ACC. Some systems work independently, allowing people to communicate without an aide or assistant, while others are intended to be used with an aide.

It can take time for someone to learn an augmentative communication system, and some people must experiment with several systems before they find one which works for them. It's also important for friends and family members to get familiar with systems used for augmentative communication so that they can communicate easily, whether someone is using an electronic ACC which provides the person with an electronic voice, a computer with a pointing device to point to images which spell out concepts, or a basic letterboard.

People who are unfamiliar with ACC technology sometimes find interacting with someone who uses augmentative communication awkward. There are a couple of things which can make it easier. It's important to focus on the person doing the communicating, even if an aide or device is actually making speech sounds, and it helps to use a comfortable communication style. For example, someone might be able to nod, but not to speak, in which case one could ask yes or no questions which could be answered without the use of ACC.

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