Augmentative and Alternative Communication

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Using Pictures to Improve Communication and Instruction

What is augmentative and alternative communication? 

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a method of communication that is used by individuals who have difficulty with or are unable to use standard forms of communication – spoken language, sign language, body language, and handwritten language – to express themselves. To communicate effectively, these individuals use alternative methods to represent, select, and transmit messages. Some of these methods are: symbols, drawings, words, letters, and photgraphs. Many of these methods are used in combination with each other and organized using either a communication book or device. Messages then can be transmitted using AAC aids – electronic or non-electronic devices – to ensure effective and efficient communication.

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

Using pictures as a visual aid is form of AAC that allows for reciprocal communication between students and their teachers/families, and helps students find meaning in instructional practices. An advantage with the picture system is that it is universally recognized; instead of creating a verbal picture with words, learners have generalized symbols already available that can help them to see and then convey what they want to say to others, and understand what others want to communicate back to them. A valuable picture communication tool is picture cards. Picture cards help students connect concrete images (e.g. a picture of a pencil) with abstract concepts (e.g. the written word "pencil). This system develops students' cognitive processes so that they understand the tasks asked of them and are able to communicate their needs. A form of AAC that has received worldwide recognition is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which is a six step program that uses picture cards to foster and facilitate communication. 

Recommended Website

An excellent website that lists multiple resources for finding and using pictures online is called "Simplified Technology". Developed by Linda Burkhart, this site also contains links to other assistive technology and augmentative communication resources for instructors, families, and students. The section of the website dedicated to finding pictures online can be found here.

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