Augmentative And Alternative Communication Systems (SAAC): An Aid For Speech

In recent decades there have been 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 history and sometimes require nothing more than facial expressions or hand gestures.

What is 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 transmit thoughts, needs, requests, etc. In this sense augmentative and alternative communication can replace speech or add information to it when this is insufficient.

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

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

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

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Although augmentative and alternative communication systems have existed at least since Ancient Greece, when methods of this type were applied in cases of deafness, SAAC as we know them today began to be developed in the 1950s, coinciding with progress general technological developments and increased disability awareness.

Types of alternative communication systems (SAAC)

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

1. Without technology

There are 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 depending on the country of origin, has also been successfully used to study the linguistic abilities of non-human primates.

2. Low-tech

Low-tech augmentative and alternative communication systems (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 replacement of oral language by specific objects

3. High-tech

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

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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 their great popularity.

Applications of the SAAC in psychology

SAACs are relevant to several branches of psychological science, including clinical, health, educational, and developmental 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 core of its development.

Children with autism spectrum disorders can significantly benefit from augmentative and alternative communication systems to overcome their language difficulties, mainly in their pragmatic aspect. 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 methods are used most frequently are those with developmental disorders that affect communicative and linguistic abilities Among this type of alterations we can highlight intellectual functional diversity, cerebral palsy or developmental 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 dementia, while others are due to environmental factors; In this sense, aphasias caused by craniocerebral trauma are relevant.