Apparently, October is International AAC Awareness month – for those of you that don’t know, AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. To be honest, I’ve always found it a little odd that such a complicated term is used to for something that’s supposed to enhance communication!

Signing 21So what do we mean when we talk about AAC? People tend to associate it with high tech tools (a la Stephen Hawking) or complete communication systems, such as Makaton, but in fact, it’s anything that adds to (augmentative) or replaces (alternative) speech. So, pointing to an object is actually augmentative communication – we’re consolidating what we’re saying using gesture.

Those of us that use predominantly verbal communication sometimes forget that communication is much more than the words we say – in fact, only 7% of the message received by another person comes from the words we use. The rest comes from tone of voice, facial expression and body language – for example, I’m sure my husband knows when I’m fed up, even if I say the words ‘I’m fine!” So, when we’re trying to communicate with people with learning disabilities, who may well have associated communication  difficulties, it’s crucial that we use all our skills to get our message across, and don’t just expect them to pick up on the words.

People who struggle to talk may be completely reliant on other communication methods to get their needs met. Vocalisations, smiles, touch, screams, eye movement – even the smallest thing might actually be someone trying to talk to you. We need to make sure that we’re really ‘listening’ to the people we support, and not just ignoring them because they don’t speak our language.

If you’d like to know more about communication, including Makaton, Intensive Interaction, Easyread and Sensory stories, why not book a place on our London training course – book before 1st November to qualify for the earlybird discount. Click here for more info.More than words

And don’t forget that under the new Accessible Information Standard, all providers of health and social care are legally obliged to make sure that disabled people have access to information they can understand and any communication support they might need. You can find out more about the standard and its implementation here.

There are also some useful online resources. Scope asked families of people who use alternative communication for some ideas, and they have compiled a list of helpful tips here. And Communication Matters have released a free downloadable booklet on AAC here.