Finding AAC for those who need it

An AAC finder can be anyone who realizes that alternative communication tools and strategies are needed. Many people can be AAC finders. Often the AAC user discovers AAC for themselves. AAC users themselves are often the first person to suggest AAC to others who struggle to communicate. Use our checklist to help AAC finders know when to refer.

When Daniel was younger, he often lost the ability to speak. Sometimes he could speak, but the words did not make any sense and only made him more frustrated. Daniel’s sister read a news story about a man who typed into a computer, which then spoke his words. She rushed to tell Daniel so they could ask his disability support worker to explore if this technology could help him, too.  

Anna lost her ability to speak after her stroke. One of her doctors referred her to a Speech Pathologist to help her find some AAC tools for communication.  

Many people, like Daniel and Anna, cannot rely on natural speech alone to meet their communication needs. They would likely benefit from AAC. How do people find out about AAC options? An AAC finder could help in this.  

We can define an AAC finder as the person who realizes that alternative communication tools and strategies may be needed for the person with communication difficulties. They can recommend or refer them to a Speech Pathologist or other support services.  

Daniel’s sister and disability support staff, and Anna’s doctor are AAC finders. They are the people that got them get started with AAC. People can find their way to more effective communication with AAC via many different paths. Many people who use AAC report that they only found out about AAC through a coincidental meeting with someone who happened to use the technology or to be knowledgeable. Therefore, an AAC finder could be crucial in this process; to help it happen and help it happen early.

No AAC finder  

Daniel and Anna were lucky to have an AAC finder. Not everyone has this. In interviews with AAC users, we found that many people did not hear about AAC from someone who had the power to refer them for professional support. Instead, it was often a chance encounter with a helpful nurse, acquaintance or another AAC user that led to discovering AAC. Sometimes a friend or family member found a story of someone else using AAC. The people we interviewed often had no formal AAC assessment or expert support to find the AAC that fit them best. They often spent scarce resources on apps that were not helpful before finding the ones that were.  

What happens when there is no-one to help discover AAC for a person who cannot rely on their natural speech? They often make a late start on AAC.  The person can experience years of communication failure and frustration. They could become socially isolated and disconnected. If the person has a disorder that is progressive, early adoption of AAC is often crucial to ensure the person can continue to communicate as their symptoms worsen. AAC delayed can be AAC denied.

“Access to AAC is very unlikely to inhibit speech. The alternative - not having an AAC finder and only being exposed to parents/professionals who are endlessly focused on ‘fixing’ speech, constantly pushing for more and better speech - can be frustrating and boring and even just lead to lower self-esteem from the constant message that they’re doing it wrong. An AAC finder instead validates diverse communication needs and doesn’t fall into the trap of only pushing speech, but letting it potentially exist alongside a range of methods.

It just feels like someone telling you to screw something together (ie communicate) while the only tool they give you is a hammer (speech). They nag at you, saying you should be able to apply the screw if you just get enough practice or try harder or hold the hammer differently or whatever, ignoring that for us hammers simply don’t accomplish the task of screwing things together. AAC finders leave the hammer next to us in case we decide we want it but also give us screwdrivers - of all shapes and sizes and handle types - so we can decide what’s going to work best.”
~ endever* corbin, AAC user

Who can be an AAC finder?  

Potential AAC finders are everywhere! They may be professionals who are in a position to consider the person’s current communication needs and make a referral or recommendation for AAC. They connect the potential AAC user with the formal supports (such as an AAC assessment).  

Some examples of AAC finders include:

  • Clinicians: doctors, pediatricians, rehabilitation staff, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and even speech therapists or speech-language pathologists with less experience in AAC
  • Educational teams: teachers, school counsellors and psychologists, educational assistants, principals or school leaders
  • AAC users and advocates
  • Family: parents, siblings or spouse
  • Friends or peers, in the community or online
  • Disability support organizations, case managers, and vocational rehabilitation agencies

Do it yourself

Not everyone has an AAC finder who starts the process of AAC. In many cases, it is the person themselves who finds AAC. If no-one ever suggests using AAC, many people do their own discovery and investigation. This may come from their own self- assessment that their natural speech is unreliable or insufficient or more effortful for them.  

Many family members of nonspeaking children are the first to find and explore AAC. Typically they find AAC much later when they have had to discover it for themselves. Often they wish that someone (such as an AAC finder) had suggested AAC long before.  

Illustration of two people facing a lightbulb, one pointing to it, the other looking at it with binoculars
Early referral to AAC assessment ensures that the person has expert assistance to find the AAC options that are the best fit for their abilities and needs.

Educate AAC finders

As an AAC community, it is important for us to reach and educate potential AAC finders. There are many benefits to getting started with AAC as early as possible. An early referral to AAC assessment ensures that the person has expert assistance to find the AAC options that are the best fit for their abilities and needs. AAC is not a last resort. AAC can be used along with other functional communication skills (eg. body language, gesture, spoken words, word attempts, etc.).  

The more AAC finders we can reach and educate, the better chances for successful communication outcomes. Let’s help AAC finders get people started with AAC.  

Questions to ask  

What questions does an AAC finder ask? How do they know when to refer an potential AAC user?

Summary

The role of an AAC finder is important in the AAC process. Do you know someone who could be an AAC finder? Share this article and checklist with them today!  

Links & references