How Augmentative Communication Helps People With Learning Disorders

Girl at computer in classroom with other students in background

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What is the definition of augmentative communication? Learn more about this tool and how it can help people of all ages with learning disabilities with this review.

What Does Augmentative Communication Mean?

Augmentative communication is an alternative way to help students and adults with language disorders use expressive language or receptive language. It is also known as supplemental communication, alternative communication, functional communication, assisted communication or facilitated communication.

Augmentative communication can be accomplished through assistive technology devices such as computers or handheld devices. Low technology such as picture communication systems can also be used as augmentative communication.

Augmentative communication is most often used with students and adults who have significant disabilities that affect language or those who do not have the ability to speak.

Examples of Language Disorders

Severe language disabilities may include learning disabilities in listening comprehension, learning disabilities in oral expression or autism, depending on the severity. Individuals with communication disorders, developmental delays in communication, apraxia or auditory processing disorders will also likely benefit from augmentative communication.

This form of communication benefits students with traumatic brain injuries or mental retardation (The term mental retardation, although still used, is considered negative. Many parents and disability advocates prefer the term mental disability and "person-first" language.).

In addition, those with deafness and hardness of hearing, selective mutism or aphasia have used augmentative communication. Even senior citizens with health issues or language disorders have taken advantage of this communication tool.

Kinds of Augmentative Communication Devices

Examples of augmentative communication devices include the Mayer-Johnson systems, DynaVox and the Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS). Mayer-Johnson systems include devices that range in price from roughly $30 to as much as $2,500. Most of the devices fall between $100 to $200, however.

They include buttons people can use to communicate, Flip 'n Talk kits, and the extremely advanced Proxtalker. But if you have $2,500 to spend, this device might be worth it. The Mayer-Johnson website states the following about the product:

"The Proxtalker uses RFID technology to retrieve vocabulary stored on sound tags to produce real words. Just pick a tag, place it on a button and press. The Proxtalker device will say the sound, word or sentence you have dedicated to the tag."

Moreover, the Proxtalker provides multimodal sensory support for individuals who rely on "symbols, pictures or objects to reference their communication."

The product is said to be ideal for communication book and picture exchange system users or as a way teachers can help non-verbal students participate in school work.

In Summary

If your child has a language disorder, an augmentative communication device may be of help to her in and out of school. Speak with your child's special education teacher, counselor, or administrator about which augmentative communication devices might be of assistance to your child.

A low-tech device may prove helpful in some cases, while a more advanced device may be more appropriate in other cases. The goal is to give your child another vehicle to communicate, allowing her not to miss out in life, whether she's in class or at home.

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2 Sources
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  1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

  2. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Language and Speech Disorders in Children. Updated March 9, 2020.