Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Find an Augmentative Communication Professional

An evaluation of appropriate augmentative and alternative communication(AAC) equipment, performed by one or more professionals, is often a critical component of successful AAC use. This article talks about what to look for in an AAC evaluator, and how to find evaluators in your area.


AACevaluations are frequently performed by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who have additional training in AAC equipment and strategies. However, they may be only one member of a team. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), which provides credentials for SLPs, recommends the following:

Selecting the best way to communicate is not as simple as getting a prescription for eyeglasses. It is important to obtain an evaluation by a group of professionals to develop the best communication system to meet your needs.
You can have an evaluation at a:
  • medical facility
  • private practice
  • school district
  • center-based program
An evaluation should involve a team of professionals working together. In addition to the AAC user and his or her family and caregivers, this team often includes the following:
    * Speech-language pathologist
    * Physician
    * Occupational therapist
    * Physical therapist
    * Social worker
    * Learning specialist
    * Rehabilitation engineer
    * Psychologist
    * Vision specialist
    * Vocational counselor
    * AAC user and family/caregivers

Team members evaluate the person's needs, current means of communication, and potential for using different kinds of AAC. Over time, team members may change as the person's needs change.
After a decision has been made to select an AAC system, it is important to have professional follow-up. This may simply be a one-time training or may require speech-language services that focus on the development of communication using the system over a period of time.
Professionals need to help the individual and communication partners learn a variety of skills and strategies (e.g., meaning of hand signs and operating a piece of electronic equipment).

Selecting an AAC Evaluator

ASHA suggests asking the following questions when determining who is most qualified to perform an AAC evaluation:
  • Do you typically provide services in the area of AAC?
  • How long have you worked in the area of AAC? Have you worked with anybody who has a similar problem?
  • Do you work as part of a team? What members are on the team?
  • After evaluation, what will you do to make the communication plan work? Will you do the follow-up treatment?
  • What specific kinds of communication options (e.g., additional treatment, gesture, sign language) do you recommend?
  • Where can I go to see and talk with people using AAC?
  • How soon can you schedule an evaluation? What will it cost? What kinds of payment do you accept?
  • If you recommend a particular device, will you help me find funding for its purchase?
  • Will I be able to see actual equipment that might be recommended? If not, where else could I go to see it?
The following are questions you should be able to answer after an AAC evaluation:
  • What communication approaches have been recommend?
  • Which approaches will be used for various modes of communication? Quick phrases? Expressing feelings? Giving and getting information? Conversation with family and friends? Written communication?
  • What symbols (e.g., letters, pictures, graphics, words, or phrases) will be used on boards or devices?
  • Is there enough flexibility in the recommended communication system so that communication is possible in a variety of settings?
  • Will special equipment or switchesneed to be bought or made?
  • What body positions can be used to increase communication and function?
  • Can the recommended system be modified as capabilities and needs change?
  • Why were the recommended techniques chosen?
  • Which professionals will be carrying out the recommended communication plan and how often must they be seen?
  • Can I talk with current users of the system I am thinking about?

Finding an AAC Evaluator

ASHA maintains a database of credentialed professionals, although it does not permit searches specifically on AAC expertise. If you bring up a list of professionals in your area, make sure to look for both "AAC" and "augmentative alternative communication," since the specialty may be listed either way.
If you can't find a nearby evaluator in this database, try contacting the following local agencies or professionals:
  • Hospitals
  • SLPs in private practice
  • School districts
  • Gerontologists
  • Rehabilitation centers

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