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Let's Get Real About the 'AAC Gap'

Posted Aug 2, 2018 - 1:41pm

By David Kay M. Ed. OTR, AAC Specialist Prentke Romich Company

Let’s get real about the ‘AAC Gap’

I am continuously amazed by the vast array of expertise amongst AAC service providers in the field. As an occupational therapist working as an AAC specialist for an AAC device manufacturer, I get to travel around the Northeastern U.S. and interact with wonderful speech pathologists (SLPs), occupational therapists (OTs), and others who work creatively and tirelessly in our field. At the same time, I get to see the wide gap that remains between the need and the availability of AAC services for the families we serve. This is an ‘all call’ for anyone who is interested in our field. You are needed. And you don’t need to be an SLP.
Emphatic YES

I recently received an email inquiry from an OT colleague that demonstrates the AAC gap. She teaches an assistive technology course at a local OT program and said, “I’ve been contacted by a family regarding their adult child with developmental disabilities who has an AAC device, but for whatever reason, they have no access to an SLP who can/will provide programming and implementation support. Knowing we have a focus on AT, the family is asking if we have a student who might be able to help.” My colleague was asking for my opinion as to whether I thought it was permissible for this willing OT student to go out and help this family. My answer was an emphatic YES!

Scope of Practice

While it is true that AAC services are within the scope of practice for an OT as ‘Communication/Interaction Skills’ are among the performance skills upon which an OT intervenes, that was not the primary reason for my encouragement. The reason for my encouragement was that this was yet another family who fell into the ever-widening AAC gap. We may not be able to send every person who is willing out to do AAC assessments, but when it comes to AAC implementation, if you have an interest and maybe even a love within you that is looking for direction then there are families that need you and resources to help you learn the ropes.

If I had to choose

When I go out to train a new team on a student’s AAC device, I always ask that the paraprofessionals be included in the training. It is, of course, essential that the SLP feel comfortable with the new device and language system as he or she will be directing the intervention, but it is just as important for those who work right next to the student each day to feel empowered to teach. I often say that if I had to send everyone out of the room and choose just one person to stay, it would be the student’s paraprofessional. She is, quite simply, the one with the most opportunity to help the student learn. Thankfully, I don’t ever have to make this choice-everybody stays.

Reach out

The bottom line is that we need more SLPs who understand and love AAC. It is true that assessment for AAC is best conducted by a team of clinicians that includes at least a SLP and an OT. There is a huge need for this. But there is just as much of a need for AAC intervention and implementation support, and for this you need only be open to learning and willing to make yourself available. The AAC gap will never be filled if we require everyone who is willing to help to be a licensed SLP. PRC is just one of the companies that offers free and low-cost implementation training courses for anyone who is willing to support individuals and families who need AAC. If you are not sure where to start, reach out to your local PRC consultant and we will either support you directly or point you in the right direction to get started.

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