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Augmentative Communication Devices for Nonverbal Children

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

When choosing augmentative communication devices for a nonverbal child, there are several aspects of the device that you must take into account. Augmentative communication devices range from a handmade picture chart to a complicated electronic device with hundreds of pictures on it.

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    Methods of Choosing Output

    One of the first issues you will need to consider when choosing an augmentative communication device for a nonverbal child is the method that the user will utilize in order to communicate. For example, some users will be able to directly push a button or point to a picture. Others who have delayed fine motor control but can control their neck muscles precisely can use a head-mounted pointer (a jelly bean switch) to make their choices while communicating. Some users will only be able to move their eyes in a specific direction, which can limit the types of AAC devices that will work best for them; others can move their head slightly to the right and to the left, which can enable them to cycle through several options and then choose the one that they want.

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    Electronic vs. Manual Displays

    Although people may think of augmentative communication devices as electronic, many of these devices can be completely manual. In fact, some of the simplest AAC devices consist of several pictures on a piece of paper that the user can simply point to, or a keyring full of picture cards that the user can choose from and hand to other people in order to communicate. Keep in mind, however, that those with limited fine motor skills, as well as those that require a large number of words and phrases, may need to use electronic displays rather than manual ones.

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    Pictures vs. Symbols/Words

    Another consideration you’ll want to keep in mind when looking for an AAC device would be whether the user is familiar with symbols/words, or whether pictures are necessary. Because words or symbols take up less room on a page or screen, a larger number of them can be accessed with the same ease as a small number of pictures.

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    Number of Options

    The number of choices allowed for a user can be extremely limited or extremely varied. The most limited version of an augmentative communication device for a nonverbal child allows users to choose from two options, such as “yes" and “no." Only slightly less limited are AAC devices that allow users to flip through various options and then select one as necessary using “123 switches." Some more varied augmentative communication devices only allow users to choose from the number of choices that can be displayed on one screen or one page, whereas others allow users to flip through pages and pages (or screens and screens) of different categories

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    Type of Output

    In the most basic type of augmentative communication aid, the user simply selects one picture, word, or phrase, and the listener must look at the selection in order to understand what has been communicated. An alternate type of output is created by a VOCA, or a Voice Output Communication Aid, in which the user’s selection is translated into an actual spoken word or phrase. If the user will be going out in public, such as to stores or on public transportation, they may want to consider getting a VOCA in order to be more easily understood.

    For more information about AAC devices, see this article on communication devices with assistive technology.

All About Augmentative Communication Devices

Augmentative communication devices can be extremely for many nonverbal or minimally verbal children. This series will include information about these devices (also called augmentative and alternative communication or AAC devices), as well as how to choose one effectively.
  1. Augmentative Communication Devices for Nonverbal Children
  2. Augmentative Communication Devices: Advantages and Disadvantages