Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Duke speech pathologists use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to help people who have difficulty producing speech or whose speech is very difficult to understand. We work closely with people with a wide range of communication problems including tracheostomy and ventilator dependence, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and autism. Whether your need is temporary or long-term, we work closely with you to identify the best intervention to positively impact your quality of life.

Expert Care for Communication Difficulties

We are one of the few facilities to offer a rehabilitation engineer who can address your motor needs as well as your ability to use augmentative and alternative communication. He can help you manipulate equipment such as your computer, television, kitchen appliances and telephone, if you have physical limitations. We have many different types of AAC systems in our clinic that are available for you to try and experiment with. This ensures that you work with the device that is most suited to your needs. Our services also include assistance obtaining funding and acquiring the device we recommend. 

Augmentative and alternative communication methods are not meant to replace your current way of communicating, nor are they intended to inhibit your speech production. Research shows that augmentative and alternative communication promotes further speech and language development. We teach you to use these methods so you can make your wants or needs known and experience more successful communication exchanges. Augmentative and alternative communication can also help you interact socially and more successfully with your family, medical providers, friends and in your community. AAC can reduce frustration, and help you become a more confident communicator.

Full Spectrum of Communication Methods and Services

Our speech pathologists offer guidance and training on the full spectrum of communication devices, from sophisticated devices that provide a voice to your ideas, to a simple, individualized communication notebook that helps you use your own speech to start a conversation.  We help children who need to request simple actions or items in school, and assist adults who need hands-free computer access via eye tracking.

  • Low-tech options. Low-tech options can range from sign and body language, pen and pencil communication, to picture and/or symbol communication books. We teach you flexible skills that can adapt to your communication needs.
  • High-tech options. Electronic speech-generating devices allow you to produce more complex messages through synthesized speech, and often involve several layers of screens and buttons tailored to your conversational needs and abilities.
  • Personalized appointments. Our services range from a full evaluation with the goal of starting therapy, to a one-time consultation that provides additional information about the services you already receive.
  • Comprehensive evaluation. Typically range from 1 to 2 hours, and include consideration of your communication interests and needs, hands-on coaching for your family to help you use the techniques that are appropriate for you, and evaluation of your motor abilities. This helps us determine the most practical and efficient way to use these options.
  • Family involvement. We encourage your family to participate in the assessment and therapy sessions. Their involvement can help ensure you use AAC methods successfully.
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