AAC augmentative and alternative communication

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) involves the use of various communication devices, tools, and strategies to help those who cannot fully rely on their speech to communicate effectively.

At FOCUS Therapy, our highly-qualified Fort Myers speech therapists provide AAC evaluations for children to determine:

  • Whether AAC is appropriate based on their current communication skills.
  • Which form of AAC device will be the most practical and provide the greatest benefit for the child.
  • An individualized plan of care to help each child become the most functional communicator they can be - today, tomorrow, and beyond.

"The end goal is always for the child to use their voice independently," explains David Gibb, FOCUS Speech-Language Pathologist and Assistive Technology Specialist. "Alternative and augmentative communication simply allows us to meet kids where they are now."

These devices utilize and build upon the child's existing communication abilities, including speech, vocalizations, manual signs, gestures, etc.

"AAC empowers children with disabilities and delays by helping them overcome the limits of their current verbal output," Gibb explained. "From there, we help them make the most of these tools so that gradually, they'll become functional communicators who rely on AAC less and less - and hopefully, one day, not at all."

Who Can Benefit from Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) estimates some 2 million people with significant expressive language impairment (difficulty expressing themselves to others) use AAC devices.

AAC is not limited to those with any one condition or diagnosis. That said, it is most typically recommended for children with:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Significant speech & language delays
  • Down syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Apraxia of speech
  • Phonological disorders
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Traumatic brain injury

Questions parents can ask if they're considering AAC for their child:

  • Do my child's language skills meet what is developmentally appropriate for their age?
  • Can my child effectively communicate their basic wants and needs?
  • Can I understand what my child is saying?

If you answered "No," to these questions, your child might be a good candidate for an AAC device and/or speech therapy.

child AAC device Fort Myers

Forms of AAC Devices

AAC devices come in many forms. Many factors are carefully considered by our Fort Myers speech therapists when determining which will work best for each individual.

Forms of AAC include:

  • No-tech:  Relies on gestures, signing, pulling, vocalizations
  • Low-tech:  Voice output devices (switches), static communication boards, etc.
  • High-tech:  Speech-generating devices

Experienced speech therapists like Gibb, who is certified in MELD, LAMP and has completed numerous AAC trainings, will consider the following when pairing a child with AAC:

  • Can they isolate one finger?
  • Do they need larger buttons?
  • How is their shoulder strength?
  • What is their hand and arm range of motion?
  • Do they demonstrate joint attention?
  • Do they have functional vision/hearing?
  • Can they read or do they need pictures and/or audio cues?
  • Do they have communication intent?

In a multidisciplinary clinic like FOCUS Therapy, our speech therapists get the benefit of insight from other skilled professionals like physical therapists, occupational therapists, and board-certified behavior analysts. Sometimes recommendations for AAC actually originate from these other therapists, though we may still require physician referral for insurance to cover the evaluation.

Will My Insurance Cover an AAC Device for My Child?

Insurance coverage for AAC devices depends on the individual policy. FOCUS Therapy has a 100% insurance approval rate from Medicaid for AAC devices.

Our Speech Therapy Department works closely with AAC device manufacturer representatives, and understand exactly what information insurers need to approve a request for coverage.

Out-of-pocket costs for some AAC devices can be as much as $5,000+. If insurance won't cover it and you can't afford one out-of-pocket, we *might*  have alternative suggestions, such as AAC programming or subscription apps that can be downloaded on a dedicated iPad, etc. The availability and appropriateness of these alternatives will depend substantially on the needs and abilities of each individual.

How Long Will My Child Need an AAC Device?

The duration of AAC device use depends on the individual.

Patients with an AAC device have a separate plan of care related specifically to the use of that device. Progress is constantly monitored, and reevaluations are conducted every 6 months.

"What we're aiming for is functional communication," Gibb said. "If they're functionally communicating verbally, we'll start phasing out their use of AAC. It's all about what is most effective for them right now."

Once your child has an AAC device, we can provide training to parents, teachers, day care program providers, etc. - anyone regularly caring for and/or communicating with your child. This ensures they're getting the most from the device, and they'll start generalizing the skills they're learning much faster.

At FOCUS Therapy, it's our believe that no child should go without communication. If your child is struggling to effectively communicate, we can provide a formal evaluation to determine whether they might benefit from augmentative and alternative communication.

Interested in AAC for your child?

AAC Testimonials

"My experience with AAC, specifically speech-generating devices (SGD), began about a year ago when speech and language pathologist David Gibb arrived at FOCUS with a mission to give every child an opportunity to communicate. I found myself leaning heavily on our speech-language pathologists to help me navigate these devices. It didn’t take long for me to see my clients start using it to request items, participate in games, express feelings, and engage with peers. The use of SGD is as diverse as the clients that use them. Learning that meeting clients where their road to communication has stopped and giving them a path to continue on this journey has been extremely satisfying for clients, therapists, and families. Through the use of SGD in ABA therapy we have seen that giving individuals an effective way to communicate has resulted in a decrease in frustration as well as maladaptive behaviors that have previously denied clients access to enriching environments. I am grateful for this technology and the opportunity to use it to give my clients the best possible outcome and quality of life."

-Beau Voltz, MS, BCBA

"Assistive technology, like Speech Generating Devices (SGDs), is a game-changer for us in pediatric therapy. These devices are like magic wands, helping kids who struggle with talking or expressing themselves. From those who can't talk at all to those who just need a bit of help, SGDs open up a whole new world of communication possibilities. It's incredible to see how these devices give our kids the power to speak up, ask for what they need, and be more involved in everything around them. With SGDs, they're not just talking, they're gaining confidence, making friends, and feeling more independent! We're big believers in using technology like this to make life better for our young patients. We can incorporate our behavior analytic principles with the skill provided by our speech therapists to provide our little patients with the highest quality care. The smiles on their faces when they realize they can communicate in a whole new way are what make the job worth it!"

-Iggy Fernandez, M. Ed. BCBA

"Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) has been life changing for many FOCUS families. I have seen so many kids use AAC to “talk” now and the progress is easy to see and usually pretty quick. This doesn’t mean they won’t use their own voice, it means they can communicate more easily right away, to decrease the frustration, while we continue to work on them being verbal. Not all SLP’s are experts in this area, so since Dave has come to FOCUS, the progress with AAC and speech generating devices (SGDs) has really been exciting!"

-Jennifer Voltz, MS/CCC-SLP