Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Speech therapists at Children's Health℠ use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to help children communicate through the use of devices. Children’s Health is among a select few pediatric hospitals in the region offering this advanced speech therapy specifically for children. We help your child communicate and engage in their community.

Dallas (Our Children's House)

214-867-6700
Fax: 214-867-6701
 

Specialty Center Allen

972-727-5312
Fax: 972-727-5014
 

Specialty Center Cityville Southwestern Medical District

214-867-6900
 

Specialty Center Grapevine

214-867-6600
Fax: 214-867-6601
 

Specialty Center North Rockwall

469-698-7719
Fax: 469-698-7733
 

Specialty Center Preston

469-303-4800
Fax: 469-303-4810
 

Specialty Center Richardson

469-488-7300
Fax: 214-867-5490
 

Specialty Center Waxahachie

972-938-7040
Fax: 972-923-8046
 

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What is Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

AAC is a specialized area of speech therapy for children who are unable to talk (nonverbal) or who have limited verbal language due to autism, stroke or other conditions.

The word “augmentative” means these services are in addition to standard speech therapy. AAC uses alternative methods (instead of verbal speech) to help your child communicate. Occupational therapy is also a part of AAC, helping kids with physical, visual or sensory challenges that may impact their ability to use these tools.

Children’s Health has one of the region’s most extensive pediatric AAC programs. We have strong partnerships with national AAC device manufacturers. Our team’s access to a wide range of communication tools, ensures that we find the communication method that works best for your child.

What are the benefits of Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

AAC provides a way for a child who is nonverbal to convey their wants, needs and thoughts. Without these communication tools, a child can become frustrated and isolated from family and friends. Some kids may act out and develop behavioral issues. They’re also at risk for developmental delays.

The right communication tool enables your child to be an active and engaged participant in their world — just like their peers. A child who uses AAC benefits from:

  • Better overall quality of life
  • Ability to engage more in school, leading to greater learning opportunities and higher quality schoolwork
  • Greater independence and autonomy
  • Improved communication with family members and everyone else they encounter including friends, teachers and aides
  • Reduced frustration and behavioral issues

What are the side effects of Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

Pediatric AAC is very safe and has no side effects.

What are the risks of Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

Pediatric AAC is a risk-free therapy. If your child has the ability to gain verbal speech, AAC will help (and not hinder) the process. Our speech therapists (as well as everyone else who engages with your child) will continue to use verbal communication to help build your child's communication and language skills. AAC can help your child express themselves until they can verbally communicate. And if verbal communication isn’t a possibility, your child can benefit from AAC for life.

What to expect with Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC at Children’s Health is a team effort. Your child works one-on-one with our speech and occupational therapists who have advanced AAC training.

What to expect before Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

During your child’s initial evaluation, our speech therapists assess your child’s communication skills. We introduce your child to different devices to find the most effective way for your child to communicate. An occupational therapist evaluates your child’s motor skills. This helps us identify the devices that work best for your child. We can also modify devices to make them easier for your child to use.

When you come to Children’s Health, your child has access to a wide selection of devices. Options include:

  • No-tech methods: Your child uses sign language or gestures like pointing, head nodding, clapping or eye blinking to communicate.
  • Mid-tech methods: Your child points to or hands over cards that feature pictures or drawings. Or your child pushes a button on a device to express sentiments like “all done,” “bathroom,” “thirsty” and “tired.”
  • High-tech methods: Your child uses a computer or tablet device to form complete sentences. Kids who are unable to use their hands benefit from eye-gaze technology (using their eyes to control a speech device), foot pedals and other methods.

What to expect during Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

After the evaluation, we discuss our device recommendation with you. With your approval, we request a trial device from one of our many respected vendors. The company customizes the trial device for your child’s specific needs and abilities.

We teach your child (and you) how to use the device. Your child can try out the device for up to 90 days. If the device isn’t a good fit, we return it and find a better option. If the device is a success, we order an upgraded one that offers your child more words or communication options.

We recommend six months of AAC, starting with therapy one day a week for the first three months. In addition to the speech therapy component, our occupational therapists work to improve your child’s motor skills. This specialist helps your child understand how to comfortably hold and use their device. When needed, our physical therapists help children in wheelchairs who need help maintaining proper positioning while using a device.

Once your child is comfortable with the device and effectively communicating, you may have monthly sessions for the remainder of the six months.

What to expect after Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

We offer refresher AAC sessions or evaluations at any time upon request. A child who starts with a no-tech or low-tech device may eventually move up to a more advanced device. Or they might stay with the original one. We can evaluate your child’s progress to determine the next steps.

We’re also here to help if your child becomes increasingly frustrated when trying to communicate, or they don’t use their device as often as they should. These behaviors could indicate that your child needs a different device.

How do I prepare my child for Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

Depending on your child’s age, you can talk to them about how this type of speech therapy can help them communicate better. Let them know that you will be with them at the sessions, so you can help them practice using their devices at home.

What questions should I ask my provider about Pediatric Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

You can ask your speech therapist or occupational therapist questions like:

  • What type of AAC device do you recommend for my child and why?
  • How often should my child attend AAC sessions?
  • How long will my child need to attend AAC sessions?
  • How long are the sessions?
  • What if my child struggles to use the device?
  • What can I do to help my child learn to use the device?
  • Will my child always need to use an AAC device?

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why would a child need Pediatric AAC?

    Most children who need AAC are born with a congenital condition that affects their speech. Some children lose their ability to speak due to a brain injury, stroke or nerve damage.

    A child who has one or more of these congenital conditions may benefit from AAC:

  • When can my child start Pediatric AAC?

    Most children who are nonverbal start AAC around age 2. Between the ages of 2 and 4, AAC focuses on simple messaging. Your child learns to express themselves using a few words. After age 4, AAC advances to more complex communication. Your child may begin to use full sentences.

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