AAC and speech are all parts of a total communication system that is fully individualized for the particular individual it serves


I am so glad you addressed the incendiary issue put forth around speech and communication because it is a conversation worth having.   I believe that as a field in general we have been overlooking a key missing link, how they connect.

Today has been a day where I have seen dreams move forward.   Today a boy was able to walk into his elementary school and say that he was in the newspaper.  Today I have seen simple miracles of life.

Out of the shadows of fear of missed opportunity of speech, comes a potential alternate scenario.  Out of a debated, confused topic comes a concept of focusing on  communication, which can mean many things to many people.

For some, communication is writing, while for some it is selecting pictures and placing them on a velcro strip.  For others it is using a PODD book.  For yet others it is switch scanning.  Now people use their eyes.  Back then, people used their eyes.  For some it is art. For some it is using a computer.

To me, when I try to think about what communication means, I always hear about three or four of some of the people I look up to most.  I hear Janice Light saying communication is the essence of life.  I think about that intro to the Buekelmand and Mirenda text about driving up to stop light and you don’t realize how many symbols we all use.   I hear Robin from the Respite saying it is all about love.  I hear Patty Cassidy saying “model, model, model”, bringing me back to my role as a teacher and mentor.  I also think about Michael Phillips and his blog.

Yet today, I was considering the evidence of how augmentative communication use effects speech.  There is a mounting body of evidence that suggests that speech is improved in individuals using AAC (Binger et al. 2008, Schlosser & Wendt, 2008, Milar, Light & Schlosser 2006). In practice, I have definitely seen this be the case and I believe it is because of the active engagement around communication is improved while using AAC, the individual has the opportunity to see the power of communication, and the individual often has a more full immersion experience with both receptive and expressive communication.  So while we see this evidence in the studies cited, the key question that came up in a coffee with a professor yesterday was how to you link them?  How do we best encourage speech while using AAC?   I am glad that Dr. Leaf responded to Robert Rummel-Hudson’s post and I like how he spoke about individuals with autism being able to learn how to use their natural voices.  It seems that we now have a conversation going and to me the focus should quickly shift to how can we better teach communication.  We can use everything available to us.  Truly, unaided natural voices are always with us and I remember Dr. Cress says, “no kid in the world is going to give up on speech” What a great common sense interpretation of the research!  So as we take up our iPhones and iPods, Vantages, Vanguards, Tangos, Dynavoxs, and Mercurys, we will consider how it all fits together into a total communication system that is fully individualized for the particular individual it serves.  We can remember what Gayle Porter says is the goal, “The goal is for people to be able to meet their own daily language needs as efficiently, specifically, intelligibly, independently, and socially valued as possible.  In closing, I would like to invite Dr. Leaf and any other experts in the study of behavior and teaching to engage in this important question, “How best do we help individuals communicate by using everything we have available?”.  I went to a lecture in LA at CSUN this past March led by Dr. Bruce Baker and Dr. Bill Helsel, titled Linguistics and Behavior Analysis Find Common Theoretical Ground in AAC and I see great opportunity for collaboration as they laid out how slps, teachers, and behaviorists can each play a part in answering the question we are all interested in better answering.

Thanks for what you do Rob and for how much you care.


Samuel Sennott

  1. Binger, C., Berens, J., Kent-Walsh, J., & Taylor, S. (2008). The effects of aided AAC interventions on AAC use, speech, and symbolic gestures. Seminars in Speech and Language, 29(2), 101-11. doi: 10.1055/s-2008-1079124.
  2. Schlosser, R. W., & Wendt, O. (2008). Effects of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on Speech Production in Children With Autism: A Systematic Review. Am J Speech Lang Pathol, 17(3), 212-230. doi: 10.1044/1058-0360(2008/021). 
  3. Millar, D. C., Light, J. C., & Schlosser, R. W. (2006). The Impact of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on the Speech Production of Individuals With Developmental Disabilities: A Research Review. J Speech Lang Hear Res, 49(2), 248-264. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021).
  4. Beukelman, D. R., & Mirenda, P.  (2005). Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.