Cali Kids Speech Therapy

How do I get an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device?

If you are a parent of a child with significant speech difficulties, finding solutions to help them communicate effectively may feel both exciting and overwhelming. However, determining the right communication system for your child is not a journey you need to do all on your own. Speech-language pathologists can help parents find and implement Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems to support communication skills.

AAC refers to a variety of forms of communication besides talking, such as gestures, facial expressions, writing, drawing, and technology like iPads, tablets, and computers that can produce speech (known as speech-generating devices). These methods can be used in addition to speech (that is, to augment), or in place of speech (as an alternative).

If you have been told that your child might benefit from AAC, specifically a speech-generating device, and are wondering what the steps are to select and obtain a device, you’re in the right place.

Choose Speech-Generating Devices to Explore and Trial

AAC comes in a variety of forms, from printed pictures to electronic devices that produce speech. Choosing the right speech-generating device depends on several factors such as your child’s motor, cognitive, and communication skills. Work with a speech-language pathologist to explore a variety of devices to determine which one is the most suitable for your child, both now and as they grow. During this phase, your therapist will consider how your child will activate the device, such as by touching it with their fingers, looking at it via eye-tracking technology, or by touching a switch (external button) that activates the device. In addition, the therapist will determine accessories needed to support your child’s access method, such as keyguards and mounting systems. Your therapist can help you apply for a trial device from the manufacturer, which typically lasts for 1-4 weeks based on availability.

Once you obtain a trial device, your child will be taught how to use the device. This is a crucial time for the family to also experiment with the device as you will be your child’s biggest modeler of language. The trial period helps to ensure the chosen device will fit with your child’s preferences, needs, and lifestyle. This is typically a good time to start talking to your insurance provider to see if and how much of a speech-generating device is covered, as well as coverage for accessories and equipment.

Complete an AAC Evaluation

The next step is to complete a comprehensive AAC evaluation by a speech-language pathologist to formally determine the most suitable type of speech-generating device for your child. An evaluation is usually required if a family is applying for funding through their insurance provider, as the report contains rationale for why the child requires this equipment. The full AAC assessment typically consists of a speech and language evaluation as well as detailed information about the child’s background, hearing, vision, mobility, and communication, physical and cognitive abilities. In addition, it contains information about daily communication needs, other devices/systems that were considered and a treatment plan.

Apply for the Speech-Generating Device

The next step involves completing required paperwork, submitting the application and AAC evaluation, and waiting for a decision regarding funding from insurance. Once approved, your own device will be on its way to you!

Personalize and Use Your Device Frequently

Now that you have your own speech-generating device, your therapist will work with you to customize it based on your child’s specific needs and interests, such as adding certain vocabulary words that are important to your child (e.g. TV characters). Your therapist will train both you and your child on how to navigate through the device, create messages, and use it across different activities. It is important that you familiarize yourself with all aspects of the device and use it throughout the day to model language. Regular check-ins with your therapist are important for monitoring progress, making modifications, and troubleshooting challenges.

The road to obtaining a speech-generating device is one that requires collaboration and learning, and leads to great rewards once your child has access to a robust communication system. With guidance from a qualified speech-language pathologist, a whole new world of communication can be opened for your child and your family.

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