Unlocking Communication: Mastering AAC Assessment Best Practices for Speech Pathologists

My AAC Basics series of blog posts continues with a brief note about AAC evaluations.

AAC Assessment: Best Practices and Tools for Speech Pathologists

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems play a crucial role in supporting individuals with communication difficulties in expressing themselves effectively. AAC assessments are needed to determine the most appropriate communication system for each individual's unique needs. As speech pathologists, conducting thorough and comprehensive AAC assessments is key to ensuring that individuals have access to the right tools to communicate efficiently. Let's explore some best practices and tools for AAC assessments that can benefit both speech pathologists and their clients.

(Note: While I have been known to sometimes say, "I don't care which system, just pick one," that doesn't apply to all children. While many users can be successful on any number of options, there are often individuals with motor, vision, and other issues that can impact how well any given system works for them. Remember to look carefully at the individual and the system.)

speech pathologist assessing a nonverbal student for AAC

Understanding AAC Assessment

AAC assessment is a systematic process that involves evaluating an individual’s communication abilities, preferences, and needs to determine the most appropriate AAC system. This process typically involves gathering information through interviews, observations, and formal evaluations to select the best communication tool for the individual.

Types of AAC Systems

There are two main types of AAC systems: static display and dynamic display devices. Static display books, boards, or devices present a fixed set of symbols or pictures on a grid, while dynamic display devices allow for more flexibility by changing the content of the display based on the user's input; allowing for access to a more robust vocabulary.

Core Words in AAC

Core words are essential vocabulary words that are versatile and fundamental for communication. Integrating core words into AAC systems is crucial as they help individuals express a wide range of ideas and concepts. When assessing an individual for an AAC system, speech pathologists should consider the incorporation of core words to enhance communication efficiency. Most dynamic display systems are now based on core vocabulary.

Best Practices for AAC Assessment

1. Collaborate with the Individual: Involve the individual in the assessment process to gain insights into their communication preferences, goals, and abilities. Many of us working primarily with children have to 'adapt' this collaboration based on the child's limitations.

I always like to just sit and play with the child. My favorite tools have long been bubbles, a device to play videos, and wind-up toys. Also, don't forget the child's faves; they're often not far from them. Begin with modelling and using single words, then see how far you can push the envelope within the session.

2. Use a Multidisciplinary Approach: Collaborate with other professionals, such as occupational therapists and teachers, to ensure a holistic assessment that addresses the individual's overall needs. Don't forget to include parents and caregivers!! This often gets overlooked.

3. Consider Environmental Factors: Take into account the individual's daily routines, communication partners, and environments when selecting an AAC system to promote functional communication.

4. Trial Different Systems: Provide opportunities for the individual to trial different AAC systems to determine which one best meets their needs and preferences. Some states (Like CA) have AT lending centers throughout the state to offer opportunities to try AAC devices, switches, and more.

Tools for AAC Assessment

1. Communication Boards: These visual aids consist of symbols/ pictures or text that individuals can point to or touch to communicate their messages.

2. Speech-Generating Devices: These electronic devices produce speech output based on the input provided by the user, offering a range of communication options. iPads and other tablets are now being used often as SGDs, along with an appropriate app.

3. Apps for AAC: There are various mobile applications available that serve as AAC tools, offering customizable features and accessibility options for individuals.

"Effective AAC assessments empower individuals with communication challenges to express themselves confidently and effectively." - Unknown

In conclusion, conducting thorough AAC assessments is important in helping individuals with a variety of communication difficulties access the tools they need to communicate effectively. By following best practices and utilizing a range of tools, speech pathologists can ensure that their students have personalized AAC systems that support their communication goals and enhance their quality of life.

No child can adequately access their right to education without the means to interact with the curriculum and others.

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