As a young professional in the field of communication sciences and disorders, I wanted to specialize in something. I just wasn’t sure what, exactly. Little did I know my son’s autism diagnosis would foster a passion for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
My son Colin was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. He also has childhood apraxia of speech. So I knew early he needed some type of AAC. A few months later, Colin began his journey using a communication device. I, in turn, dived into the world of speech-generating devices (SGDs).
Within a few days of using his communication device, Colin could convey his basic wants and needs. These communications brought him smiles and joy. His excitement about being able to communicate sparked something in me. I needed to bring similar gratification to other children who need AAC.
Colin quickly improved his communication skills using AAC. Now—as a 5-year-old—he wants his device with him everywhere he goes. He makes requests. He comments on things. He answers questions. He uses two-word phrases. He can even read!
In the last several months, Colin started to speak. He can now imitate words we model for him. And he speaks in some three-word sentences, completely unprompted! I hear him say new words daily. In the past two years, I watched my son go from no language skills to effectively communicating daily . And I watched him go from nonverbal to speaking.
My son taught me so much on our joint AAC journey. Here are some insights I’ve learned:
Before my son could communicate through AAC, it would have been easy to assume he didn’t understand, he couldn’t communicate, or he didn’t want to interact with others. But Colin’s team of therapists assumed he was capable of learning. They believed in his abilities even before he demonstrated any communication skills. This presumed competence helped set my son up to succeed and gave him the means to prove his ability.
AAC can promote spoken language.
As professionals, we know what the research says about the benefits of AAC on spoken language. But being able to share Colin’s story with my clients’ parents gets through to them even more than presenting the evidence. I can share how Colin’s receptive and expressive language blossomed. Parents hear my thoughts on how his exposure to the written word on his device helped him learn to read. I can talk from experience as well as point to research on how using AAC can promote all forms of communication.
Early introduction of AAC is beneficial.
As a speech-language pathologist, I knew the need for communication and, per research evidence, the advantage of introducing Colin to AAC early. As a parent, I also wanted speech to come so much that I considered waiting to use AAC. We live in a time in which technology can give us the tools to help more people—and at an earlier age. Seeing my son’s transformation in two years inspires me to give more young clients their voice through AAC.
Communication-partner training boosts AAC success.
I realize now just how vital it is to get communication partner buy-in for AAC use. I constantly make sure Colin has his device, encourage him to use it, and model new vocabulary. Motivating consistent and long-term use of AAC involves teaching families, teachers, and other professionals the importance of unrestricted access to the device, modeling, and use across all settings. Implementing AAC with a any child is a team effort, and only if every member of the team buys into using a device can we help the child build lasting communication skills.