Hearing Voices: power in speech and AAC

May 11, 2016

Imagine you are sitting in a classroom. Your teacher is giving a lesson about spring. She talks about flowers and trees. She talks about the weather and changing seasons. She even talks about animals which reminds you of the baby animals you recently met on a trip to a local farm.

You’re anxious to share your experience. In fact, you’re bursting to tell about how cute and soft and sweet these tiny creatures are. When the teacher asks if anyone has anything to share you desperately want to rocket your hand into the air -- this is your chance to tout your first-hand adventure.

But you can’t do it because someone took your voice away. So you are left silent when you really did have something you wanted to say.


Sadly, situations like this are not uncommon when it comes to AAC users. Augmentative communication devices are sometimes viewed as helpful appendages rather than vital tools.

Whether it is stashed in a cupboard, left in a backpack, or the battery is allowed to whimper and die, a communicator can’t use a speech device that he or she can’t access.

In her 2015 presentation on “The Do’s and Don’ts of AAC,” Jane Farrell, a speech pathologist and educator with extensive experience in AAC, emphasized this point when she declared, “Do: make sure AAC is available all day, every day. Don’t: limit access to the AAC system.”

Paul Visvider, MA CCC-SLP and author of “How to Teach Students Who ‘Talk With Technology,” said, “A student will naturally continue to use whatever modality is near at hand and easy and effective for the situation... The AAC tool needs to be positioned properly so that the student can access it consistently and intentionally. If it is out of reach, or not available, it is useless to anyone!”

Having access to their voice only in certain situations (like during therapy, class, or mealtime) is detrimental to a child’s learning, socializing, and building of relationships. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to accessing AAC.

  • Most important of all: Everyone deserves the chance to be heard. Every person has something to say and should have the opportunity to say it.

  • Lack of access to the AAC device leaves a child to rely on less universal forms of communication and may keep them from becoming comfortable with AAC at all.

  • Language is a pivotal skill that opens the gateway to literacy. Speech reinforces language in a powerful way.

  • Neural pathways are created when we perform new tasks and consistency in tasks speeds up and strengthens those pathways for future use.

  • In order to build relationships people need to be able to understand each other.
    Supporting common language brings people onto the same plane.

  • Children can be lazy creatures (sorry kids), they like to do what is easy. If extra effort is needed in order to speak (like searching for the device) they will likely skip it.

  • Practice makes perfect -- it’s nearly impossible to develop any skill that you don’t work on and AAC is no different. In order to master AAC you have to use AAC which means it has to be available.

  • Keeping AAC handy sends the message to communicators that we care about what they have to say. It teaches them to speak by reassuring them that we want to hear their words.

It isn’t too hard to avoid issues that grow from lack of access to communication. The bottom line -- keep a child’s voice turned on by making AAC accessible ALL the time.

For a free trial of a strong AAC system and to help your communicator make their voice heard visit us at www.mycoughdrop.com.

Melissa DeMoux

Former CoughDrop Director of Marketing and Support -- worked with AAC communicators & teams