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Roadblocks to Language Development in Children Using AAC

AAC is a wonderful solution for children having communication deficits due to developmental disabilities and other speech disorders. While we support communication, we also need to focus on the child’s language abilities. Language not only helps in having meaningful interactions but it plays a key role in literacy too.  So, it is important that we identify factors that affect language development in children with complex communication needs. 

AAC as a Last Resort Myth

There is a misconception that a child would need AAC only after all options for their speech development have been exhausted. This can result in the child’s language skills to fall behind. Since lack of communication can cause behaviour challenges, delaying AAC can also result in missed opportunities for social interactions. 

AAC interventions must not be contingent on failure to develop natural speech because AAC plays several roles in early communication development. (Reichle, Buekelman, & Light, 2002; Cress & Marvin, 2003). It is better when a child receives AAC intervention before communication failure occurs. So, AAC is not only for older children whose speech has not developed. It can be a great tool also for young children to prevent delays in communication and language development. 

Using AAC for only for Basic Needs

For communicators new to AAC, we may focus on only requesting and other functional communication needs. To let AAC users express their preferences, we may also teach AAC users to answer YES/NO questions. But without a plan for language development, AAC users can be stuck with only need-based communication.

To encourage autonomous communication, we must model AAC use in all environments and for different communicative purposes. AAC can be a great foundation for language and literacy skills. So, we must use AAC while reading, during playtime, and several activities. Asking open-ended questions is an excellent way to encourage children to express their thoughts better. Similarly, by pausing expectantly and using appropriate prompts, we teach can children to use AAC for commenting, describing, narrating, asking questions, and other communicative purposes. 

Giving Access to Limited Vocabulary

As the AAC user’s exposure to language grows,  we must give them access to vocabulary that supports their progress. There is a common belief that we must introduce new words to AAC users only after they have mastered their current set of words. But giving a limited vocabulary can potentially restrict their language development. An AAC system with robust vocabulary, on the other hand, allows communicators access to a wide range of words to express their thoughts and opinions.

For example, “Stop” and  “I don’t want to do it” can be used for rejecting. However, if a child does not want to do an activity, they should have the vocabulary that enables them to express that. The more language and words a child is exposed to, the higher the chances of language development in children using AAC. Similarly, when children have extensive core vocabulary at their disposal, they will be able to use them in different contexts and make themselves understood.


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