Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Evaluations

AAC Evaluations Unlock Effective Communication for Students


More than 1 in 10 children live with a communication disorder. 

Some disorders—such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and childhood apraxia of speech—are congenital. Others—including aphasia, disorders resulting from traumatic brain injuries, and ALS—are acquired.

However, they can all threaten children’s access to and success in education.

An augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) evaluation is the first step in determining how to help students with severe communication disorders engage in the academic and social activities many of their teachers and fellow students take for granted.

Assessing the student’s needs, accessibility, device specifications, and vocabulary takes a lot of time. It can also be quite costly. Evaluations are often too expensive for school districts’ budgets to bear. 

Managing funding for AAC evaluations is a constant challenge, but at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’re changing this status quo!

We’re making our AAC-trained speech-language pathologists more available to identify and meet students’ specific needs in convenient, cost-effective ways.

How AAC Systems Improve Students’ Quality of Life

Communication is key to virtually every daily activity in school. Students with severe expressive or mixed receptive-expressive communication disorders face challenges when they try to:

  • Express their needs, thoughts, and feelings, orally or in writing.
  • Comprehend what other people say or write.
  • Participate in class discussions and meaningful conversations by sharing information or making comments.
  • Ask questions about what they don’t understand.
  • Solve problems.
  • Advocate for themselves.

For these students, AAC systems unlock new possibilities.

aac evaluationAAC systems may be unaided (meaning they use nothing but the student’s own body) or aided (meaning they use external equipment). All AAC systems integrate four components:

  • Visual-graphic symbols – Representations of thoughts and feelings. Examples include:
    • Pictures
    • Photographs
    • Line drawings
  • Communication aids – Tools and devices for expressing ideas, emotions, needs, and wants. Examples include:
    • Natural aids (facial expressions, gestures, sign language)
    • External tools (symbol boards, picture notebooks, or electronic solutions, like speech-generating devices matching symbol selection with voice output)
  • Message selection techniques – Ways students choose what they want to express. Examples include:
    • Simple or complex partner-assisted scanning (the student chooses from possibilities presented by a partner)
    • Direct selection through techniques like touching or eye gaze
    • Encoding (for instance, using numbers to represent pre-determined messages)
  • Strategies – Systematic methods for using an AAC system’s elements to enhance communication. Examples include:
    • Topic setting, which gives AAC users a practical way to start and take turns in conversation
    • Word prediction, in which assistive devices anticipate what a communicator wants to say based on the first letter or letters input
    • Requesting word and message choices to work around vocabulary limitations

Depending upon a student’s age and circumstances, AAC systems not only enhance communication, but also:

  • Encourage cognitive development
  • Stimulate natural speech development or redevelopment
  • Enlarge vocabulary and provide a stronger foundation for literacy
  • Decrease frustrated, challenging reactions to communication breakdowns
  • Increase social interaction
  • Nurture a sense of personal freedom and independence

PTS Makes AAC Evaluation and Implementation Accessible and Affordable

Up against large caseloads and limited resources, schools often have trouble giving students the AAC services they need and federal law mandates.

PTS brings AAC evaluations and interventions within more schools’ reach. We offer access to our extensive network of trained and credentialed AAC speech-language pathologists on an as-needed, contracted basis.

PTS’ AAC specialists possess academic expertise in communication disorders and practical experience obtaining and using AAC technologies. Our clinicians’ multidisciplinary approach involves:

  • Observing and interacting with students to assess their current communication level, visual and auditory perceptual skills, motor skills, and cognitive processes.
  • Seeking input from key individuals who work with an individual student—teachers, occupational and physical therapists, family members, and other IEP team members.
  • Weighing relevant factors, like medical diagnoses, medications, recent changes in communication and behavior, and the student’s personality and interests.
  • Choosing assistive technologies or trial devices with an eye toward available supports, as well as what has and hasn’t worked in past interventions.
  • Providing teachers and family with essential training and consultation for establishing students’ consistently successful communication.

Now you can help more of your students reach their highest communication potential, all while keeping costs under control. Find out how as-needed access to PTS’ specialists can make augmentative and alternative communication evaluation and implementation easier and more affordable for your district. Call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.

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