Communication does not have to be verbal and when it is augmented, or an alternative is used with those who have complex communication needs, it is known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in English. It can be hard to imagine
not being able to speak or express ourselves.
Think how you feel when you cannot understand another language, such as when you travel alone. What sort of difficulties and anxieties arise?
We have to find other ways of making ourselves understood otherwise we become isolated and frustrated.
Children normally start to understand pictures, make
gestures, point and build eye contact, use body language as well as vocalise at a very young age. These forms of unaided communication remain very important throughout our lives. They continue to complement our verbal speech and language.
However, when we want to express our needs and wants or start to make requests, if these cannot be achieved by learning to speak symbols can become a form of aided communication.
Many young children start with pointing but can benefit from learning more gestures, alongside the use of pictures, when starting to communicate, especially if their receptive (understanding) and expressive language skills are delayed or they
are non-verbal. This may be due to cognitive, physical or sensory disabilities which can be:
- congenital (occur at birth) such as Down's Syndrome, Autism or Cerebral Palsy,
- acquired (happen due to an accident) for example a brain injury or
- degenerative (the result of a debilitating disease) resulting in dysarthria with a slurring of speech or ataxia with poor articulation.
The range of different types of disability can be enormous, as can the varying degrees of speech and language difficulty, so it is important to understand the overall picture in order to learn how to help individuals overcome the barriers.