We are often asked: Will Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) stop an AAC user from learning to speak? Different team members are concerned that introducing alternative forms of communication will reduce speech attempts, and stop the AAC user from learning to speak or even trying to speak.

Research demonstrates that using AAC does not keep an AAC user from learning to speak. In fact, many AAC users will make gains in speech because AAC helps build successful communication.

While each person is an individual and may have reactions to speech alternatives that are not consistent with this research, we can be confident that for the great majority of AAC users, AAC has no effect on speech development, and may result in improved and increased speech. In addition, providing someone with a way to communicate more clearly can reduce frustration and help language development.

The research

Here are two of the most often cited articles:

• "The Impact of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on the Speech Production of Individuals With Developmental Disabilities: A Research Review" by Diane C. Millar, Janice C. Light and Ralf W. Schlosser in Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 2006, Vol. 49, 248-264. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021)

This article presents the results of a meta-analysis to determine the effect of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities. A comprehensive search of the literature published between 1975 and 2003, which included data on speech production before, during, and after AAC intervention, was conducted using a combination of electronic and hand searches.

"The present research review provides important preliminary evidence that augmentative and alternative communication interventions do not inhibit speech production; instead, AAC may also support speech production.”

• "Effects of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on Speech Production in Children With Autism: A Systematic Review" by Ralf W. Schlosser and Oliver Wendt in American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, August 2008, Vol. 17, 212-230. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2008/021)

This systematic review aimed to determine the effects of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) intervention on speech production in children with autism or pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. A systematic review methodology was utilized to limit bias in searching, selecting, coding, and synthesizing relevant treatment studies. This involved a multifaceted search for studies written between 1975 and May 2007 using various bibliographic databases, dissertation databases, hand searches of selected journals and published compilations of AAC theses and dissertations, and ancestry searches. To be included, studies had to meet stringent criteria. A coding manual and form facilitated data extraction in terms of participant characteristics, treatment characteristics, design and measurement, and outcomes.

"Results indicated that AAC interventions do not impede speech production. In fact, most studies reported an increase in speech production. However, in-depth analyses revealed that the gains were rather modest."

Multi-modal communicators - Speech and AAC

All AAC users are multi-modal communicators and use a variety of ways to communicate. They will use their AAC system, facial expressions, vocalizations, signs, and gestures, as well as whatever speech they are able to produce - whatever works best to get their message across clearly and quickly. In practice, we know that speech is a faster and more efficient means of communication than an AAC system. This means that when an AAC user can use speech for a message, it is likely that he or she will use speech. Use of speech is often more successful when it’s supplemented with an AAC system - if the speech is unclear, the AAC system can be used to clarify the message. This can provide a more positive experience for the AAC user than using speech alone - and may make it more likely he’ll risk using his speech in the future.

Most importantly, we want people with limited speech to be able to express themselves successfully, by whatever means available to them. We should value and respect all their ways to communicate. The power of AAC is that it can give a person with limited speech more words and language, and the possibility of communicating far more than they can with speech alone.

Overcome the Roadblock

Giving someone AAC will not stop them from learning to speak. There is so much to be achieved when we give a voice to AAC users!

Take the test: Check the Learn AAC Guide to see where you are in establishing AAC for an AAC user. This may help you overcome any roadblocks stopping you from success!

Links & References

The following are additional research articles supporting this position:

  • Baumann Leech, E. & Cress, C. (2011). Indirect Facilitation of Speech in a Late Talking Child by Prompted Production of Picture Symbols or Signs. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 27 (1), 40-52.
  • Blischak, D. M. (1999). Increases in natural speech production following experience with synthetic speech. Journal of Special Education Technology, 14, 4453.
  • Blischak, D., Lombardino, L., & Dyson, A. (2003). Use of Speech-Generating Devices: In Support of Natural Speech. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19 (1), 29-35.
  • Cress, C., & Marvin, C. (2003). Common Questions about AAC Services in Early Intervention. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19(4), 254-272.
  • King, A., Hengst, J., & DeThorne, L. (2013). Severe Speech Sound Disorders: An Integrated Multimodal Intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 195-210.
  • Millar, D., Light, J., & Schlosser, R. (2006). The Impact of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on the Speech Production of Individuals With Developmental Disabilities: A Research Review. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 248-264.
  • Romski, M. & Sevcik, R. (2005). Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention: Myths and Realities. Infants and Young Children, 18(3), 174-185.
  • Romski, M., Sevcik, R., Adamson, L., Cheslock, M., Smith, A., Barker, R., & Bakeman, R. (2010). Randomized Comparison of Augmented and Nonaugmented Language Interventions for Toddlers With Developmental Delays and Their Parents. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 53, 350-364.
  • Sigafoos, J., Didden, R., & O'Reilly, M. (2003). Effects of Speech Output on Maintenance of Requesting and Frequency of Vocalizations in Three Children with Developmental Disabilities. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19(1), 37-47.
  • Schlosser, R. & Wendt, O. (2008). Effects of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on Speech production in Children with Autism: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17, 212-230.