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The Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems (SAAC): a help for speech

The Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems (SAAC): a help for speech

January 25, 2022

In recent decades they have developed augmentative and alternative communication systems (SAAC) very sophisticated that are based on the use of electronic devices such as mobile phones. However, these methods have existed since the beginning of the story and sometimes require no more than facial expressions or hand gestures.

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What is the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

The concept "augmentative and alternative communication" is used to talk about any type of non-oral communication method that can be used to convey thoughts, needs, requests, etc. In this sense augmentative and alternative communication can replace speech or add information when it is insufficient.

Therefore, following this definition, augmentative and alternative communication is a very broad and varied set of techniques, and all human beings make use of it to some degree. For example, our gestures and facial expressions, the tone of voice we use when speaking or the emoticons typical of the chats are examples of this type of communication.

However, the term is generally applied almost exclusively to Communicative support systems designed for people who have difficulties expressing themselves through speech. Some representative augmentative and alternative communication systems (SAAC) are graphic signs boards and electronic voice devices.

Among the alterations in which augmentative and alternative communication is useful and which are the competences of psychology, we find autistic spectrum disorders, intellectual functional diversity, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, developmental dyspraxias and aphasias (linguistic difficulties due to brain injuries).

Although the systems of augmentative and alternative communication have existed at least since Ancient Greece, in which methods of this type were applied in cases of deafness, the SAAC as we know them today began to develop in the 1950s, coinciding with progress technological advances and an increase in awareness of disability.

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Types of alternative communication systems (SAAC)

The augmentative and alternative communication systems are generally divided according to the complexity of the additional instruments they use. So, we find SAACs without technology (such as sign language), low technology and high technology , that is, those that depend on the use of electronic devices.

1. Without technology

There is a large number of augmentative and alternative communication methods that do not require any type of additional instrument or equipment, but are based exclusively on the human body itself. Thus, these methods may include vocalizations, hand gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, etc.

Sign language can be considered an alternative communication system lacking technology. This method, which is very useful for the communication of people with hearing difficulties and varies according to the country of origin, has also been used successfully to study the linguistic capacities of non-human primates.

2. Low technology

The augmentative and alternative systems of communication of low technology (also called "assisted communication") are those that rely on the use of non-electronic instruments. This is the case of boards with images, words or letters, as well as other similar instruments that are based on the substitution of oral language for certain objects .

3. High technology

Unlike low-tech SAACs, these types of methods employ electronic support tools. Most of these systems they generate language artificially, either in auditory format or as text , but their complexity varies greatly, since they include simple devices with buttons and sounds but also very sophisticated instruments.

Within this type of augmentative and alternative communication systems it is important to highlight that the technological advances of recent years have favored the use of Communication support applications for mobile phones, laptops and tablets. The practicality and ease of access to these methods explain its great popularity.

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Applications of the SAAC in psychology

The SAAC are relevant to various branches of psychological science, among which we highlight clinical psychology, health, educational and development psychology. In addition to the applications that we will mention, these systems are also used in people with sensory deficits such as blindness and deafness , which were the nucleus of its development.

Children with autism spectrum disorders can benefit significantly from augmentative and alternative communication systems to overcome their language difficulties, mainly in their pragmatic facet. The complexity of the SAAC will depend on the severity of the case, although many times a system without technology may be sufficient.

One of the groups of individuals in which this type of method is most frequently used are those with developmental alterations that affect communication and linguistic abilities . Among these types of alterations we can highlight intellectual functional diversity, cerebral palsy or evolutionary dyspraxia, in addition to autism.

SAACs are also useful for acquired disorders. Some of them are associated with degenerative processes of genetic origin, such as Parkinson's disease, sclerosis (both multiple and amyotrophic lateral) and dementias, while others are due to environmental factors; In this sense, aphasias caused by traumatic brain injuries are relevant.

STAR Issue 1.2 The AAC Total Communication Toolbox (January 2022).

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