by Julia Wynne, MA, CCC-SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist); NWACS Contributor
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) interventions can benefit individuals with significant speech and language impairments by improving their ability to communicate effectively. There can be a hesitancy to start AAC because of concerns that it may have a negative impact on speech production. Some people believe that AAC may become a “crutch” and prevent or slow down the development of speech. This month’s summary, a research review by Millar, Light, and Schlosser about the effects of AAC intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities, will debunk this myth.
As always, I will start by providing the definition of some key terms. I will then share the research question and why this information is important to know. I will follow that with the authors' conclusions and some essential takeaways so that we can apply this research to our AAC learners. Here we go!
Aided AAC: use of tools or equipment in addition to the user's body to communicate
Communicative competence: knowledge and use of the principles of language
Model: demonstration of a speech or language target
Speech production: oral expression of language and oral production of intelligible words or word approximations understood in context
Unaided AAC: the use of the body to communicate, including gestures, body language, facial expressions, and sign language
The question asked in the article is: What is the relationship between AAC intervention and speech development in individuals with developmental disabilities?
Let's explore why this research is crucial for us to be informed about!
People who serve AAC users need evidence about the impact of AAC on speech production in order to make the best-informed decisions about implementing AAC. AAC may allow individuals to focus on the overall goal of communication, instead of the motor and cognitive demands of speech production. It can also provide a consistent model, especially aided AAC with speech output, for speech production. It is known that AAC therapy enhances communicative competence and language skills for individuals with developmental disabilities, so knowledge about how speech development coincides with AAC use is vital for professionals and parents. Initiating AAC can be an intimidating task. Research regarding the effect of AAC intervention on speech production can make this difficult decision easier and may erase fears about the development of speech for these individuals.
6 studies that included speech production as a component of the analysis of the results of AAC intervention were reviewed. 5 of the studies provided instruction in unaided AAC (manual signs), and the remaining study used aided AAC without speech output. These studies were comprised of 27 cases. Of these 27 cases, increases in speech production were observed in 24 (89%). In the remaining 3 cases (11%), there was no change in speech production as a result of AAC intervention. Speech gains were measured in terms of the number of spoken words, the number of two-word phrases, or the percentage of opportunities during which the participant used spoken words.
The studies included in the research review indicate that AAC intervention did not have a negative impact on speech production and actually had a positive effect on speech production for most individuals.
What should we do with this information?
Professionals and parents thinking about implementing AAC interventions should not hesitate to introduce these interventions due to concerns about speech production. When speech is not enough to meet the communication needs of these individuals, AAC intervention can be considered and introduced in order to improve communication without significant impact on speech production. In fact, evidence suggests that AAC interventions can be beneficial to speech production for these individuals. Professionals and parents do not need to make an “either-or” decision between natural speech and AAC. Both modes of communication can be supported through the use of AAC.
Please comment with any thoughts or questions!
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Millar, D., Light, J., & Schlosser, R. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: A research review. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 248–264. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021)
You can read other posts in our AACademics series by clicking HERE