Dispelling myths regarding Augmentative & Alternative Communication is needed to ensure that all individuals are receiving the best possible interventions and outcomes.
Myths arise when there is a lack of clarity around a topic or when speculation takes the place of evidence-based practice.
The information below seeks to dispel any uncertainty around AAC that individuals may have, allowing confidence to be drawn from the statements presented and the research supporting these claims.
Four Myths of AAC
1. Using a communication device will stop my child from talking.
This is an interesting myth that stems from a natural concern parents have for their child. The truth is that AAC is linked to an increased chance of verbal speech improving & developing (Millar, 2000. Romski, 2005).
This does not come as a big surprise as language is an incredibly abstract & difficult construct to comprehend & so any visual reinforcement or support in the form of AAC is likely to help us understand it better. Verbal speech is also the quickest & most precise way we can express complex emotions and thoughts thus an individual will generally try and use this as it is the most time effective method of getting a message across.
2. There is a representational hierarchy of symbols from objects to written words.
This myth is not based on how children typically learn. In the very early stages of language learning (0-2 years) the iconicity of an object was not found to impact language learning in a study conducted by Namy, et.al. 2004. To a child, whether a picture of a real chair or a symbol of a chair is shown, it does not impact the function that the image is having for the child & so it does not affect their ability to learn the associated words.
What this means is that children who are in the early language learning stages do not need to be limited by real life images but can in fact be assisted in learning language through symbols that depict “core vocabulary”, comprising words which are typically not able to be represented by real life objects e.g. “go, stop, more & mine”.
3. Children have to be a certain age or have intact cognition to be able to benefit from AAC.
Individuals of all ages can & do benefit from AAC use. The idea that children should be a certain age stems from the false belief that AAC will limit the verbal development of a child, which is of course false, as described above.
AAC has progressed in such significant leaps & bounds since its early conception that now access to even high-tech devices is incredibly simple and easy to achieve. As such, those who have significant cognitive impairments can achieve communicative success using all types of low-tech or high-tech AAC systems.
Communication using high-tech devices can begin at a simple cause & effect level meaning that individuals with some of the most severe cognitive impairments can begin using these devices.
4. AAC is a “last resort” in speech-language intervention.
Romski & Sevcik (2005) in their article “Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention Myths and Realities” explain how in the early days of AAC intervention, AAC was only used after other speech tactics had been exhausted. This view of AAC intervention, 50 years on, has been totally dismantled by the amount of research demonstrating the benefits of AAC on early & late language learners.
AAC should be seriously considered for any individual that is having difficulty accessing language, no matter their age or amount of intervention received. The need to practice language in real life situations is essential for language & skill development & is something AAC can provide when spoken methods of communication are failing.
Millar, D., Light, J., & Schlosser, R. (2000). The impact of AAC on natural speech development: A meta-analysis. In Proceedings of the 9th biennial conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (pp. 740–741). Washington, DC: ISAAC.
Namy, L. L., Campbell, A. L., & Tomasello, M. (2004). Developmental change in the role of iconicity in symbol learning. Journal of Cognition and Development, 5, 37–57.
Cress, C. J. (2003). Responding to a common early AAC question: “Will my child talk?” Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 12, 10– 11.
Reichle, J., Beukelman, D., & Light, J. (Eds.). (2002). Implementing an augmentative communication system: Exemplary strategies for beginning communicators. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.