This is part 3 of a six part series on AAC 101: A Primer for Supporting an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) User. Look for parts 4 through 6 coming up over the next several weeks.
There are some terms that will reoccur throughout discussions of AAC. They are briefly defined here, and will be discussed in more depth throughout this course.
An AAC system that utilizes something that is external to the user; such as a communication book or device. (In contrast, speech, vocalization, gestures, and signs are examples of UNaided communication.)
Instead of speech; replacing speech.
In addition to the user’s speech to supplement and/ or provide support and additional communication.
Complex Communication Need (CCN)
Usually used to refer to those AAC learners who have significant disabilities and needs beyond simply replacing their speech.
Something that represents or stands for something else. In the simplest form, a symbol is a signal that is interpreted the same way by at least two people.
There are 2 types of visual symbols; graphic and lexical. Graphic symbols include line drawings, photographs, color or black & white images. Lexical symbols are with letters or words.
A general term for movements that are made with hands, arms, and facial expressions.
Signs are more conventional gestures that have been ascribed meaning by a group of users and become a part of the lexicon (which is, essentially, a catalogue of a language’s words)
SGD (speech generating device) or VOCA (voice output communication assistant)
Voice output can be either digital (recorded speech) or synthesized (computer generated) speech.
High tech devices are referred to as SGDs because the speech can be computer generated. However, many high tech devices also have the capability of using digitized speech in some instances.
Low tech static display devices use recorded speech only to provide the voice output.
Partner Assisted Scanning (PAS)
A strategy in which the communication partner scans through the choices available on the (low-tech) AAC system, always in the same order, looking for an agreed-upon response from the individual to accept an option. Partners present the choices in the same sequential order every time. This strategy is usually used with an individual with significant motor or visual problems who has difficulty accessing an AAC system independently.
The human partner is called a “smart partner” in contrast to computer assisted scanning because the computer cannot adapt to the individual’s day to day or minute to minute fluctuations or read facial expressions and body language the way a live partner can.
Aided Language Stimulation (AlgS)
A strategy in which a communication partner teaches the AAC user the meanings of symbols, their locations, and how/when to use them through modeling their use while providing verbal input for genuine communication interactions.
The way in which the individual makes a selection of a word or message on the AAC system.
Direct selection access involves the user pointing or touching the system directly.
Scanning involves using a switch to activate the system’s movement through the messages available in sequential order until the user activates the switch again (or a second switch) to make a selection.
Eye gaze is an access mode for those with significant motor disabilities wherein a built-in camera tracks the eye movements of the individual, allowing the user to point to the message button with their eyes. Eye gaze is faster and more efficient than using a scanning system.
Those high frequency words which we use the most often. These words are usually useable in a variety of contexts on a variety of topics, and can be combined together in a large number of ways to create novel messages. A variety of parts of speech are represented in core words, but rarely nouns. About 80% of what we say is comprised of core words.
Those topic specific words that are used less often and are less useful in a variety of contexts; they are usually nouns, and make up only about 20% of the words one would find in a 100 word sample.
Symbol Transparency and Opacity
AAC systems can use concrete objects, photographs, life-like drawings, or line drawing symbols. Symbols are said to be transparent when what they represent is obvious to any communication partner either immediately or with an initial explanation. Opacity refers to symbols that are abstract, don’t have any resemblance to the word or concept, and which are not easily identified without the accompanying label or direct instruction.
Susan Berkowitz, MS CCC-SLP, MEd., has been a speech-language pathologist for 40 years. She has worked mostly with children and adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and other developmental disabilities, as well as 8 years in the language-based classrooms in a school district. Susan has worked in public and non-public schools, residential settings, and nonprofit community agencies. She has written for peer-reviewed professional journals and presented at international conferences. Visit her website and blog for additional resources. For her complete resume, click here.