The Benefits of AAC for Individuals with Down Syndrome
What is AAC?
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, also known as AAC, refers to compensatory or supplemental methods of communication for individuals who have difficulty utilizing verbal language, either temporarily or permanently, to functionally communicate. It allows individuals to use various methods, such as sign language or modified signs, picture communication, facial expressions, gestures, vocalizations, and electronic devices like tablets (also known as speech generating devices or SGDs), to communicate with others across environments.
Why may AAC be needed?
Deficits impacting communication may be due to difficulty expressing language or articulating sounds appropriately in order to be understood clearly. These deficits can be the result of congenital or acquired disabilities, including but not limited to Autism, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual impairment, hearing impairment, disease, stroke, developmental delay, and Down Syndrome.
Communication involves many systems that work together. These systems include expressive language, receptive language, and articulation. Expressive language is the use of language to express thoughts, ideas, and needs. Expressive language skills include generating sentences, expressing preferences, making requests, labeling familiar objects, increasing vocabulary, etc. Receptive language refers to how language is understood. Receptive language skills include following directions, understanding various concepts, understanding sentences and questions, and more. Lastly, articulation is a complex process that involves breathing, voice production, and oral motor coordination to produce speech sounds. For some children with Down Syndrome, receptive language has been found to progress quicker than expressive language due to difficulty with production of language and forming phrases and sentences. Speech sound production can also be difficult due to physiological differences in this population which can impact muscle coordination, strength, and tone. If your child has difficulty producing speech sounds or generating thoughts/ideas clearly and effectively, AAC can be a great tool for allowing your child to express himself/herself. AAC can be utilized to clarify unintelligible speech when the intended message is not understood or to express messages that may be difficult for an individual to generate due to challenges with sentence structure, word finding, etc.
How is AAC Beneficial?
AAC is not necessarily permanent but can be if needed. It can be used temporarily in conjunction with development of verbal language or can be utilized as the primary means of communication when verbal language is delayed. AAC can offer great benefits for individuals with Down Syndrome, as well as any other individual who may need it. It can assist in language development, encourage language use, increase confidence in communication, and allow for social language and relationships to develop. Ultimately, the goal is to provide your child with the most effective methods of communicating his/her wants and needs in ways that appropriately suit him/her. If you feel your child would benefit from AAC, talk to your child’s speech-language pathologist about all of the options to help your child thrive!