AAC Devices for Language Development in Children with Autism

We all want our children or clients to be successful with vocal language, but it doesn’t always happen right away. For kids that are not yet talking, things like sign language, picture exchange or AAC devices can be implemented and often serve as a springboard not only to better communication but also to vocal language.

I recently spoke with Speech and Language Pathologist and autism mom, Deidra Darst. She and I discussed her stance on AAC devices and also about her autism blog. If you want to listen to our whole conversation, you can find it on my podcast.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices

Some people think that Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices – like sign language and picture exchange – will curtail or prevent vocal language. That’s simply not the case. Every study that I’m aware of shows AAC devices can often be a springboard for language. Like in Deidra’s case, where her son uses an AAC device called Language Acquisition Through Motor Planning, or LAMP. So, as a speech pathologist, Deidra also wants to dispel that myth.

In my online courses, I am a big proponent of not going to a device too early. If the child has any kind of pop-out words, we might want to spend a month or two trying to get vocal words because there’s no upkeep on a device. However, using an AAC device can be helpful in situations where your children or clients with autism need help with their vocal language, for instance, longer or harder words that are difficult to pronounce. Like I always say, we want our children or clients to be as safe, independent, and happy as possible. It’s okay if you need an AAC device to help with those goals.

Still, there are a lot of parent concerns. I know somebody in my online community that just posted how her speech therapist for her son wanted to start a picture exchange and she felt like that would cut off his language. He already had some vocal language at that point and she wanted to focus on it more. But the speech pathologist, in that case, wanted to focus on the picture exchange. It shouldn’t be all or nothing, but in the end, vocal language is the best to start with. However, sometimes you need to start sign language or picture exchanges or AAC devices just to get the children spring-boarded.

Deidra’s Advice on AAC Devices

Deidra says she tries to explain AAC devices to parents – Augmentative and Alternative Communication. It’s okay to use these devices as a supplement. With her son, speaking is the easiest and that’s what he prefers. When he wants something or wants to tell his parents something, he’s going to say it. But they might not always understand what he’s saying, particularly if it’s a three-syllable word or something that’s a little harder to say, or if it’s a new word for him. Then he will go get his device and use it.

If your child has no way to communicate and you can give them AAC devices to give them communication, you should do it. Yes, you want them to talk, but until that happens, you need to give them a way to communicate.

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The SLP Mom

I also asked Deidra about her blog. Deidra writes a blog called The SLP Mom (www.theSLPmom.com) that she started after her son was diagnosed with autism.

She says, “Colin was diagnosed with autism almost two years ago. I didn’t really talk about it because I thought it was private. I started the blog just for myself to process. That’s how I work through emotions… write. A few months into that, he had a diagnosis and I hadn’t made it public. I thought I was doing him a disservice because I was his voice right at that moment. If I don’t speak up for him and share what’s going on, people won’t know. They won’t understand.”

You Are Not Alone

“I’ve had a lot of messages, mostly from other moms, who just say “thank you,” because you feel alone sometimes,” Deidra says. “You just need to hear from somebody else that it’s okay to feel sad or that, if your kid’s struggling, you’re not alone,” says Deidra.

“I write when something strikes me. Maybe a couple of times a week I’ll write something and then I might go a week and not do anything. It’s just my way of processing my emotions, but it also helps me reach out to other parents. I’ve done some blogs on AAC devices and using augmentative communication. I’ve written about how it’s not going to hold back language.”

AAC devices will not curtail your child or client’s language. I am a firm believer of working on language first, but if an AAC device will help your child or client lead a happier, more independent, and safe life, they are worth looking into. If you would like more information, check out the rest of Deidra’s podcast episode at https://www.marybarbera.com/autism-speech-delay-deidra-darst/

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Transcript

We all want our child or clients to be successful with vocal language, but it doesn’t always happen right away. And for kids that are not yet talking sign language, picture exchange or other language devices and augmentative systems can be implemented and often serve as a springboard to not only better communication but also to vocal language. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, online course creator and bestselling author of The Verbal Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around. So if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now. Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from a podcast episode with speech and language pathologist and autism mom, Deidra Darst.  Here she discusses her stance on language devices. I hope you enjoy this short excerpt, but if you want to listen to the whole podcast episode, you can go to marybarbera.com/39 or click on the card on the screen now.

Let’s get to Deidre’s advice on augmentative devices. Some people think that augmentative communication devices sign language, picture exchange, um, that they will, there’s a myth out there that that will all, um, curtail language that that will prevent language and that’s, vocal language, and that’s not the case. Actually every study that I’m aware of shows that that can often be a springboard, like in your son’s case where um using that LAMP um, augmentative device has really helped. Um, on the other hand, and I would assume you would agree that, you know, as a speech pathologist, you know, you want to kind of dispel that myth. On the other hand, in my online courses, I am a big proponent on, uh, you know, not going to a device too early. You know, cause there’s a lot of energy. Uh, if the child has any kind of pop out words or we might want to spend a month or 2 trying to get words, vocal words because it’s easiest, you know, there’s no upkeep on the device.

It’s completely with you at all times and, and so, um, but there are, I think there are a lot of parents’ concerns. I know somebody in my online community just posted that her speech therapist for her son wanted to start picture exchange and she felt like that just cut off his language. And he did have some vocal language as well. And she wanted to focus on vocal language. And the speech pathologist in this case wanted to focus on the picture exchange and, and it shouldn’t be, you know, all or nothing, but in the end vocal is the best, you know, the best alternative. But sometimes you need to start sign or pictures or a device just to kind of get them spring-boarded.

Well, and I think that’s something that I always tried to tell parents too.  AAC, there’s alternative, but there’s also augmentative and yes, they might just need it to supplement. And that’s where Collin is now because you know, speaking is the easiest and that’s what he prefers. So when he wants something or wants to tell us something, he’s going to say it now.  Um, we might not always understand it, particularly if it’s maybe a 3 syllable word or something that’s a little harder to say. Or if it’s a new word for him. Um, so then he will go get his device and use it. But I always look at that. If your child has no way to communicate and you can give them PECS or sign language, anything that gives them communication and yes, I know you want them to talk and I want them to talk too, but until that happens, we need to give them a way to communicate.

Yeah. So you also went on to write a blog and so it’s called the SLP mom, is that correct? It is. It is. So, um, SLPmom.com, theslpmom.com. And so is it, the, in front of it? Okay. So theslpmom.com. When did you start it? Why did you start it and how often do you do it?

Um, so Colin was diagnosed with autism, it’s almost 2 years ago, and I didn’t really talk about it because I thought this is private, this is, this is his life. Uh, I’m not gonna put this out there. And I started the blog just for myself to process. And that’s how I work through emotions is to write. And, um, a few months in to that, he had a diagnosis and I hadn’t made it public. I thought I’m doing him a disservice because I am his voice right now. And if I don’t speak up for him and share what’s going on, people won’t know. They won’t understand. And I thought, you know what, I’m going, I’m just going to share this. So, um, probably a year and a half ago, um, I just said, Hey, I started this blog cause people want to read it, go for it. Um, and I’ve just had a lot of messages mostly from other moms who just say thank you because you feel alone sometimes.

I mean, I know you’ve been there, you understand that and you just need to hear from somebody else that it’s okay to feel sad or it’s, you know, it’s okay, your kid’s struggling minus 2, you’re not alone. Um, so I have the blog, um, I created a Facebook page for that recently, just in the last few months. Um, I just kind of write when something strikes me, I guess. Um, I don’t do it. Maybe a couple times a week I’ll write something and then I might go a week and not do anything. But, um, it’s just my way of processing my emotions, but also reaching out to other parents. I do try to write some things. I’ve done some blogs on AAC and using augmentative communication and how it’s not going to hold back language, um, and all those things. So I do talk about that too.

I hope you enjoyed this short snippet from the podcast. If you want more content, check out the podcast at marybarbera.com/podcast, wherever you’re watching this, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video with others who may benefit and for more information, you can attend a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshop and I’ll see you right here next week.

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