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What is Augmentative-Alternative Communication?
According to the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA), it is, “…a set of procedures and processes by which an individual’s communication skills (i.e. production as well as comprehension) can be maximized for functional and effective communication. It involves supplementing or replacing natural speech… with aided… and/or unaided symbols…”
Note that this definition refers to communication approaches that augment speech or serve as an alternative refers to all methods that make communication easier or possible may include facial expressions; gestures; an alphabet, words or picture board; a computer; and other similar systems.
Ultimately, the most effective communication is achieved through spontaneous novel utterance generation (SNUG).
SNUG allows someone to say anything they want, by combining words, word combinations, and commonly used phrases. It’s based on normal language (moving from single words to word combinations), and on the notion that most sentences we use we’ve never used before.
Consider: if most sentences we use we’ve not used before, then how can we predict which number of limited number of sentences someone else will want to use?
In fact, pre-stored messages (as have been found on many AAC users’ systems) are rarely used in social contexts by AAC users, according to the research (Hill, K, and Balandin & Iacono).
So, how do we design AAC systems so that individuals can learn to generate whatever ‘novel - or repeated - utterance’ that they want to?
We need to give them a system that has sufficient vocabulary to meet all of their communication needs. This vocabulary needs to be organized in a manner that makes linguistic sense, is easy to navigate, is easily added to without disturbing the organization, and allows the user to find vocabulary easily for a variety of messages.
There are a variety of options available when it comes to organizing vocabulary in AAC systems. Organization of vocabulary has been one of the most hotly debated topics in AAC discussions. Recently, however, we as a field have come to the conclusion that a combination of core word and pragmatic based communication is the most functional.
Core Words and Pragmatic Function
Core vocabulary boards and books focus on providing students with those words that research has shown to be the most-used to generate language responses.
Core vocabulary is a small set of words, in any language, that are used frequently and across contexts (Cross, Baker, Klotz & Badman, 1997). Core vocabulary is re-useable vocabulary, and consists of high-frequency words that are multi-purpose and are used over and over in multiple contexts and with clear meaning. Core vocabulary is consistent across place and topic, and is independent of cognitive ability. Core vocabulary includes a variety of parts of speech - nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections; although there are very, very few nouns and none in early core word lists.
Regardless of whether core words will be built one at a time or a dozen at a time, it is important to start with a display that is larger than it needs to be in the beginning – one that is approximately a size that will be functional for the individual for a while. The grid can then have just the single word, or few words, to begin with, with more core words added as language and communication grow. What is important about this concept is that the vocabulary be placed in its permanent location from the beginning, so that it remains stable throughout learning.
As a new word is added, emphasize it more than others in Aided Language Stimulation and elicitation strategies. Provide activities that focus on that word more than others, while still maintaining use of words that have been established.
Beyond contextual use, begin to add practice activities that practice locating and using the word in decontextual activities.
Modify traditional games so that the words needed to play them are the words you’ve been building.