AAC Awareness Month: James Gains His Voice

October is International AAC Awareness Month, which seeks to raise awareness of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and the many different ways people can communicate using communication devices.  Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to the communication methods used to supplement or replace speech or writing for those who have difficulty producing or understanding spoken or written language.

Seashell Trust’s specialist therapy team use a range of innovative approaches to AAC to enable our children and young people to express themselves and communicate effectively. 

An AAC Case Study
James is a pupil at Royal School Manchester who has complex needs including Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). When he started at Seashell Trust, James had difficulty expressing his needs and preferences and could become frustrated.

With the support of our therapy team, James has used a range of different types of AAC which have enabled him to communicate with others. The speech and language therapy team assessed his communication needs and working together with the assistive technology team, identified the types of AAC that would most effectively meet these needs.

James initially began using the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS. PECS uses visual symbols to teach the learner to make requests by exchanging a symbol. With PECS James started to develop communication skills and then to build simple sentences to make requests which would be understood by a range of people, such as his parents, carers and teachers. James then progressed onto using a symbol communication book which contained a wider range of vocabulary and enabled him to communicate beyond requests, meaningfully participating in interactions for a range of reasons.

More recently, James has progressed to using a high tech Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA). VOCAs are electronic devices such as iPads which enable the user to speak through digitised speech.

James is now able to express himself with people in a range of different situations. He can make choices and requests and participate in social conversations for the first time.  Using his VOCA, James chooses the food he wants to buy in the supermarket when he goes shopping with school staff and can select what he would like to eat and drink when he visits coffee shops with his residential staff or family. Using his VOCA has also given James more control over his environment to allow him to express that he wants ‘more’ of something really motivating or that he wants an activity to stop.

In addition to Seashell Trust’s therapy team, James’ fantastic staff in house and school have been essential in developing his communication skills. They have become experts in the software he is using so that they can consistently model use of the device to James in lots of different situations. As a result, James has learned to find the words he needs and that the VOCA is an effective way to communicate, as he will be listened to.  The VOCA has given James a voice and staff’s consistent reinforcement of this way of communicating has encouraged James to make this his main way of expressing himself.