What are the Prerequisite Skills for AAC Devices?
In short, there are no prerequisite skills for AAC! But let me explain why:
This is the most common question I get from parents and therapists working with non-verbal children who are considering augmented or alternative communication (AAC) systems or devices for a child. There seem to be a pre-conceived notion that there are some pre-requisites for AAC devices that a child must have before they can be considered a candidate for an AAC device.
This is simply not true. In fact, AAC can actually help a child learn those skills more quickly. The following examples will explain what I mean. I will mention some common “prerequisite skills for AAC” that I hear about for AAC children and then I will explain why each one is not necessary before AAC can be initiated.
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Prerequisite Myth 4: The Child Must Understand Enough Language for AAC
There is nothing that says that children must have great language skills before they can start communicating! You can start with one button and one word that the child is able to say using a communication device. The child only needs to understand that they want the thing they get when they push that button. The language skills will follow once he understands the effect that communicating has (it gets him what he wants!).
Think of it like this: we talk to children and use speech around them well before they are able to understand it or use it themselves. That’s how they learn! Similarly, we don’t have to wait until the child understands language before we start exposing him to an AAC device or system.
Prerequisite Myth 5: The Child Must Have Enough Interest in Communicating to Use AAC
This is one I commonly see in children with autism. Parents or therapists will say “well, he never seems to want to communicate anything so I don’t think he would use a button to communicate either”. For some children, that may be the case, but you never know until you try. It is very likely that the child does not yet understand the power of communication.
Once you teach the child that pushing a button will get her something she wants, you may be surprised how much her interest in communication grows. For many children, spoken words are much too difficult so verbal communication is not even an option. If that is the only means of communication they have been exposed to, they will not be very interested in communicating since it is so difficult for them.
Once you give them an easier means of communicating, you may be able to show them how wonderful communication is and get them interested. Once they are interested in communicating, they often begin making more attempts at verbal communication as well!
In short, there are no prerequisites skills for AAC devices that a child must meet before he or she is allowed to try an AAC device. That isn’t to say that an AAC device will work for every child. Instead, what I hope to convey is that every child deserves the right to try an AAC device and shouldn’t be denied that right just because they seem to be lacking some important skill.
I hope this helps you understand a little more about how AAC can be used with non-verbal and very young children. Using AAC is such a wonderful way to get non-verbal or unintelligible children to start talking and there are so many options out there. Many times, using an AAC device is just what is needed to give the child a jump-start to communicating and eventually get her talking!
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