A student using an ALD

Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC)

Verney Road School community shares the belief that every child has the right to communicate and that our role in this is to provide them with tools and strategies to make this a reality.  Verney Road School has made a commitment to being fully AAC accessible.

Alternative and Augmentative communication (AAC) is a set of tools and strategies that an individual uses to solve every day communicative challenges. Communication can take many forms such as: speech, a shared glance, text, gestures, facial expressions, touch, sign language, symbols, pictures, speech-generating devices, etc. Everyone uses multiple forms of communication, based upon the context and our communication partner. Effective communication occurs when the intent and meaning of one individual is understood by another person. The form is less important than the successful understanding of the message.

Linda Burkhart, 2018, ISAAC Conference.

Why we do what we do

“A child who uses speech will independently select the words she wishes to use from the vast array of words she hears/sees used every day. A child who uses AAC will independently select the words she wishes to use from the vocabulary other people have chosen to model and, for aided symbols, made available for her to use.”

Porter & Kirkland, 1995, p.93-94
Wil uses AAC to convey his message via the classroom interactive displays.

What we want for our learners

We wanted our students to communicate independently their needs and wants, problems and opinions, academic answers…and maybe even their dreams.

What is Aided Language Stimulation?

A language stimulation approach in which the facilitator points out picture symbols on the child’s communication display in conjunction with all ongoing language stimulation. Through the modelling process, the concept of using the pictorial symbols interactively is demonstrated for the individual.

Goossens’, Crain, & Elder (1992)

We use a Multimodal Approach.  What’s that?

Verney Road School uses a multimodal approach to communication.  This means that each individual is provided with a variety of tools from a ‘toolbox of communication methods’.

  • We all use multiple communication methods, such as speech, gestures, pointing, facial expressions and writing, and we tend to choose whichever method is most effective for each situation.
  • In the same way, a person with CCN may use a number of different methods to communicate. They will choose their most efficient methods when communicating messages, whether that is speech, signing, symbols, a communication device or another way.
Jen uses a PODD to ask her students questions in the High Needs classroom.

Tools and Strategies used to enhance communication:

Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD)

PODD stands for:

  • Pragmatic – the ways that we use language socially
  • Organisation – words and symbols arranged in a systematic way
  • Dynamic Display – changing pages.

The PODD system was designed by Gayle Porter, Australian Speech Pathologist. These Communication books use familiar picture symbols and are organised by the different pragmatic functions of language; For example to request, recount, instruct, complain and many more. They allow communication between people with complex communication needs and their communication partners, whether that’s carers, family, friends or support workers. Each PODD book is customised for the individual keeping in mind communication and language requirements, physical and visual skills; For example PODDs can be created with a range of levels of vocabulary from 9 cells per page to over 100 cells over a two page spread.  PODD books can also allow alternate access methods such as eye gaze, visual and auditory scanning.  PODD books may also be printed in high contrast to assist those with visual impairments. 

For PODD to be effective

Communication partners and teachers are also encouraged to use and model PODD books for communication.

AAC Basic and Implementation: How to Teach students who “Talk with Technology” Paul Visvader, 2013

Aided Language Displays (ALD)

Aided Language Displays include a small sample of vocabulary which is likely to be used during a particular activity, routine or setting. This may include routines such as getting dressed or using the toilet, settings such as the bathroom or swimming pool, or activities including playdoh, songs and games. They can also be used for academic lessons to provide access to new, topic-specific vocabulary. Vocabulary is organized from left to right to loosely imitate sentence structure in written and spoken English, although certain key symbols such as ‘more’ and ‘finished’, which frequently appear on displays, are located in the same place each time to help the learner’s understanding and use. Displays can be stored with the resources for each activity, or can be placed on the wall next to static activities such as ‘trampoline,’ ‘toilet’ or ‘sandpit’. It is important to note that while ALDs can promote access to some language, they do not contain all of the vocabulary needed to communicate all of their needs, wants, thoughts and feelings – and therefore cannot replace a comprehensive system (such as PODD).

Various different forms of Aided Language Displays (ALDs).

Key Word Sign

Key Word Sign is used to encourage and support language development in children and adults with communication difficulties. When utilizing this communication tool only the most important words for communicating the message are signed; For example in the sentence “ I want to play with you” we would sign “I play you”.  Key Word Signing uses Auslan signs and natural gesture. Auslan is the native language of the Australian deaf community (Australian Sign Language).

The main features of Key Word Sign include:

  • Use of sign and speech at the same time
  • Many of the signs are iconic – that is they look like the actual action.  e.g. Drink. 
  • Sign the key words but say the whole sentence
  • Use of visual strategies including body language, facial expression and directionality*
  • Some use of finger spelling

*Please see the VRS Communication Team if you would like more information on this.

A student using an Aided Language Display (ALD)

Frequently Asked Questions

Will the interventions and practices my child learns now be the system they will use forever?

Over time, the ability to use AAC devices may change, although sometimes very slowly, and the AAC system chosen today may not be the best system tomorrow.

Will using AAC practices and interventions stop my child talking?

AAC is used by people who, some or all of the time, cannot rely on their speech. For example, an individual who has not yet developed understandable speech might use a speech output device to produce words. But, as his speech becomes clearer, he may need to use this device in only some situations.

Why don’t we just use high tech. communication devices?

Some of our students do use High Tech communication devices such as Proloquo2Go & PODD for Compass apps and switches.  While High Tech. devices do have the advantage of speech output and larger capacity for vocabulary without increasing device weight they do have limitations.  Devices only work when charged and may go flat or break leaving the user without a system. Most devices cannot be used in extremes of temperature and around water and screens may be difficult to see in direct sunlight. For this reason all of our students who use High Tech also have a Low Tech option available at all times.