Over the past decades, they have developed augmentative and alternative communication systems (SAAC) very sophisticated technologies that rely on the use of electronic devices such as cell phones. However, these methods have been around 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 of “augmentative and alternative communication” is used to talk about any kind of non-oral communication method that can be used to convey thoughts, needs, requests, etc. In this way augmentative and alternative communication can replace speech or add information when this is insufficient.
Therefore, by this definition, augmentative and alternative communication is a very large and varied set of techniques, and all human beings use it to some extent. For example, our facial gestures and expressions, the tone of voice we use when talking, or the emoticons of cats are examples of this type of communication.
However, in general, the term applies almost exclusively to communication support systems designed for people who have difficulty expressing themselves by the word. Some representative systems of augmentative and alternative communication (SAAC) are graphic display panels and electronic voice devices.
Among the disorders in which augmentative and alternative communication is useful and concurrent in psychology, we find autism spectrum disorders, intellectual functional diversity, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, progressive dyspraxia and aphasia (Language difficulties due to brain damage).
Although augmentative and alternative communication systems have existed at least since ancient Greece, in which such methods were applied in deafness, SAACs as we know them today began to develop in the 1950s, coinciding with general technological advancements and an increase in disability awareness.
Types of Alternative Communication Systems (SAAC)
Improved and alternative communication systems are generally divided according to the complexity of the additional instruments they use. So we find SAAC without technology (like sign language), low-tech and high-techIn other words, those who 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 additional instruments or equipment, but are based exclusively on the human body itself. So, these methods can include vocalizations, hand gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, etc.
Sign language can be seen as an alternative communication system lack of technology. This method, which is very useful for the communication of hearing impaired people 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
Low-tech, alternative and improved communication systems (also referred to as “assisted communication”) are those that rely on the use of non-electronic instruments. This is the case of tables with pictures, words or letters, as well as other similar instruments based on the replacement of oral language by certain objects.
3. High technology
Unlike low-tech SAACs, this type of method uses supporting electronic instruments. Most of these systems they generate language artificially, either in auditory form or in text formBut their complexity varies enormously, as they include simple devices with buttons and sounds but also very sophisticated instruments.
In this type of augmentative and alternative communication systems, it is important to emphasize that the technological advances of recent years have favored the use of communication support applications for mobile phones, laptops and tablets. The convenience and ease of access to these methods is why they are so popular.
Applications of SAACs in psychology
SAACs cover several branches of psychological science, including clinical psychology, health psychology, educational psychology, and developmental psychology. In addition to the applications that we will mention, these systems are also used in people sensory deficits such as blindness and deafness, Which have been at the heart of its development.
Children with autism spectrum disorders can benefit significantly from augmentative and alternative communication systems to overcome their language difficulties, primarily in their pragmatic aspect. The complexity of SAACs will depend on the severity of the case, although a system without technology can often suffice.
One of the groups of individuals in which these types of methods are most often used are those who developmental disorders that affect communication and language skills. Among these types of alterations, we can highlight intellectual functional diversity, cerebral palsy or progressive 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 (multiple and lateral amyotrophic disease) and dementia, while others are due to environmental factors; in this sense, aphasias caused by traumatic brain injury are relevant.