When should I introduce “Alternative Communication” to my Autistic child?

One of the first questions I get asked when the topic of “alternative communication” comes up is:  “will it not discourage my child from learning verbal speech?”

No it won’t! Researched evidence suggests that Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) systems could in fact help children develop spoken language and that the introduction of AAC helps children with Autism Spectrum Disorder on many levels.

It is a difficult discussion for any parent to enter into because all we want is for our children is to “talk” and even entertaining the idea of that not happening is a bitter pill to swallow.

I however feels that it is important for parents to focus on Communication… not just speech!  Communication in my mind should always be our first priority and the sooner we introduce our children to AAC the better.  Our entire strategy for our children should be communication – verbal or alternative!

AAC communication is a general term used to refer to approaches, tools and strategies that enable children (and adults) with speech/language delays and/or difficulties to communicate their wants and emotions.  Many of the communication systems on the market are also used for people with stroke-related dysphasia.

There is a wide variety of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems or approaches available that can be introduced to a child.  Some are low-tech methods and others high-tech.

Very popular and easy to implement low-tech (no-tech) methods includes sign language, pen & paper, hand gestures and the PECS system or Picture Exchange Communication System.

Everyday items such as Computers, iPad’s, Tablets and Smartphones fall into the hi-tech category.  There are even systems available that can be specifically fitted that would allow people to communicate using custom bottoms and pressure sensors.

As noted in “The promise of Assistive Technology to Enhance Activity and Work Participation” ~ the primary rationale for individuals electing to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is the inability of their natural speech to meet all of their daily communication needs…

So the introduction of AAC can help those that cannot speak but it can also help those individual who simply cannot use verbal speech to communicate all their daily needs.

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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.