Why would people use AAC?
AAC is used to help people express themselves. Some people, both children and adults, find communication difficult because they have little or no clear speech. There are many possible causes for this including cerebral palsy, stroke, head injury, motor neurone disease or learning disability. Other people, for example those with autism spectrum disorders, find spoken communication difficult because they do not understand how language works and may find it difficult to connect socially. A more concrete form of communication may be easier to use.
AAC can also help with understanding. Some people find it difficult to understand what others are saying. This might be due to a stroke, a learning disability or a hearing impairment, for example. If others use some form of AAC, like drawing or writing or pointing to things, to back up what they are saying, that may help people to understand.
Difficulty with communication is a common, but under-recognised, condition. An estimated 1 in 100 people have significant communication difficulties and might be helped by some form of AAC. Better communication, using AAC, could improve their quality of life and increase their participation in society. Being able to communicate brings more opportunities for education, work, relationships and independence.
Will AAC affect speech development?
AAC does not stop someone speaking – in fact it can often help to improve speech. Speech is usually quicker and easier than AAC so people will always use speech when they can. But all forms of communication are equally valid - whatever works best at the time to get the message across.
How long does it take to learn to use an AAC system?
There is no single answer to this because AAC systems vary so much, and so do the people who need to use them. Some people will be able to use some systems almost straight away; others will require a long period of learning and practice, and a great deal of support. Learning to communicate using an AAC system can be a challenging task. Getting to grips with how an AAC system works, technically, is sometimes relatively straightforward, but it can take longer to learn how to actually use it in conversation. Rather like learning to communicate in a foreign language, a lot of teaching and practice may be needed in order to feel confident about using the skill in real life. Seeing someone else using the same method of communication, as a ‘role model’, can be very helpful.
As communication is life-long, people using AAC systems never stop learning how to express themselves more fluently. Ongoing support and training for both the person using AAC and their family and support staff is very important.
Talking with someone who uses AAC
This can seem a daunting process the first time. Thoughts such as "Will I understand them?", "Will they understand me?", "What will I do if it all goes wrong?" are all too common. So do read our suggestions on Having a conversation with someone who uses AAC which have been written by people who use AAC, to help you relax and enjoy a conversation with them.