Sarah McPoland collates tips from AAC users for people who have not previously encountered AAC.
AAC is an abbreviation of Augmentative and Alternative Communication and it encompasses various strategies and tools to support people with limited or no verbal speech. The tools (which are designed to assist users to communicate as effectively as possible across environments) range from simple letter or symbol boards to sophisticated electronic systems.
Introduce one question at a time
It is good practice to structure a conversation by asking a single question at a time.
Open questions (beginning with “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why”, “how” or “if”) are preferable as they elicit a fuller response.
Let us direct you regarding the support we require
Every AAC user’s communication is unique so begin the exchange by asking the individual to share their preferred strategies and by inviting them to suggest any accommodations which you can introduce to enhance the interaction.
Accept all of our input
Respect and acknowledge the AAC user’s contributions and avoid interrupting or overlapping their conversational turns.
Be guided by our non-verbal behaviour
As AAC users rely less on interjections, observe the individual’s non-verbal behaviour closely. Body language and facial expressions play a key role in conveying meaning.
Be honest about how much of the conversation you have understood
Check that you have correctly interpreted the AAC user’s contributions by rephrasing their responses.
In the event of a communication breakdown, ask the AAC user to clarify the following points:
- The individual(s) involved
- The situation under discussion
- The timing of the event in question (ie past, present or future)
Be comfortable in the silences
Avoid the temptation to increase the pace of the interaction or to predict the individual’s intended messages by completing their turns. The strategy often leads to misunderstandings and AAC users typically prefer to complete their own sentences.
Ask for repetition if required
In the event that the AAC user is difficult to hear or understand for any reason, ask the individual to repeat to ensure that your interpretation is correct and to enable you to respond to their comments.
Conversation is a two way process
Reduce (but avoid oversimplifying) your own remarks to assist the AAC user to follow the thread of the conversation and to contribute.
Pause and invite the AAC user to ask questions rather than expecting the individual to interject naturally during a conversation.
If the AAC user is constructing a response during an interaction, pause the conversation to allow the individual the opportunity to contribute before shifting the topic or introducing a further question.
In a group situation, voice the fact that the AAC user is in the process of constructing a message to ensure that the individual is afforded adequate time and fully included in the discussion.
Respect our efforts to communicate
The AAC user’s ability to use their system may vary significantly from day to day for a wide range of reasons. It is therefore good practice to highlight any topic shifts as subtle facial clues may be overlooked if the individual is focusing on accessing their system
Afford the AAC user sufficient time to respond without interruptions and introduce a single topic of conversation at a time as the pace of interaction is naturally slower.
Interact with us
Establish eye contact and address the AAC user directly to ensure that any visual clues (such as body language, gesture and facial expressions) can be perceived and interpreted. If possible, ensure that you are at a level with the AAC user (ideally seated) during the interaction.
Sarah McPoland is a Trustee at Communication Matters.
Information on AAC: