Communication is the essence of human interaction and learning. The nature of communication relies on an interaction between individuals, and the understanding that is created through that interaction.
Communication is a basic human right and essential to our quality of life as a social species. As human beings, we use communication to: relate to others, socially connect, greet, call attention, share feelings, express an opinion, agree, disagree, explain, share information, question, answer, tease, bargain, negotiate, argue, manipulate, compliment, comment, protest, complain, describe, encourage, instruct, provide feedback, show humour, discuss interests, be polite, make friends, express interest or disinterest, etc.
WHAT IS AAC?
AAC (Augmented and Alternative communication) is a set of tools and strategies that an individual uses to solve every day communicative challenges. Communication can take many forms such as: speech, a shared glance, text, gestures, facial expressions, touch, sign language, symbols, pictures, speech-generating devices, etc. Everyone uses multiple forms of communication, based upon the context and our communication partner.
Effective communication occurs when the intent and meaning of one individual is understood by another person. The way that something is communicated is far less important than the successful understanding of the message.
We all use different methods of communication. Imagine yourself in a noisy bar or pub. Your friend gets up to get a drink at the bar on the other side of the room. While he is there, you decide you would like a drink, too. If it is too noisy to call him, you might wave your hand to get his attention. Once he sees you, you might make a gesture of drinking, or you might hold up your empty glass and point to it. Your friend may nod and then indicate ‘What kind of drink do you want?’ by turning his palms up, raising his hands and using a quizzical facial expression. If you see a poster on the wall that shows your preferred drink, you might point to the poster.
Alternatively, you might pick up and show, or point to someone else’s drink, to indicate you would like the same thing. You might point to your friend to indicate the same as whatever he is getting. If you don’t really care, you might use a body gesture and facial expression with your hands moving palms facing up. You have just used a series of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) forms. Whenever something constrains the effectiveness of our spoken language we will use an augmentative form.
Four factors influence this:
1. Our current abilities
2. The environment
3. The person we are communicating with
4. Accepted social norms.
When you have laryngitis, you might write on a pad of paper, because you are temporarily unable to use your speech. With someone who is not nearby, you may send a text or an email. If you are speaking with someone who doesn’t speak your language, you may point to a map, pictures or a travel book. You may use a facial expression or gesture to communicate with someone across a noisy room
There are two main types of AAC:
(1) Unaided AAC:
Communication techniques that do not require the use of an external aid
This means that the person uses whatever is available to them, generally their own body. Examples of unaided AAC include using eye contact, facial expression, body language, gestures and manual sign.
(2) Aided AAC:
Any external item used to aid communication
Examples of aided AAC include:
Goals of an AAC system should be to provide a means for the individual to say what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, when she wants, and to whom she wants. Autonomy of an individual’s communication should be central.
People who are new to the field of AAC may make the mistake of looking for one system – perhaps a “high tech” speech-generating device – to be the “perfect solution.” This is rarely adequate. There is more to the process than first meets the eye. Features and access strategies must be carefully matched to the individual’s requirements. Systems require training for the user, and often for communication partners who will be interacting with and supporting the user. Backup systems and creating an aided language learning environment for the user may also be critical. Repair and ongoing tech support for high tech devices will also be needed.
Selecting a pre-designed, carefully thought-out language system, and then customising vocabulary and messages, is an on-going process that should be periodically revisited as an individual’s needs or situation changes. This process is updated as new technologies are invented, and/or a person’s needs or environment changes. For many individuals, this will continue to be important throughout their lifetime.
Note of caution: As new systems are introduced, there is a danger that current systems may be discarded. A person’s communication system should never be taken away. When new communication strategies are introduced, they may be added to existing systems and strategies. The individual who is using AAC will decide when and where to use or discard possible systems.
Selecting, designing and customising an AAC system is only the first step in the process. The individual will need training and experience using the system. Skills in the areas of language, pragmatics, operation (access), and strategic use of AAC may need to be learned. Communication partners will also need to be trained to help support the development and success of the system throughout the individual’s varied daily experiences
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