Alternative and Increasing Communication Systems (SAAC)

The augmentative and alternative communication systems (hereinafter SAAC) are those devices or systems that help and allow people with communication difficulties to interact and perform effective interaction.

Through SAAC, people with difficulties are able to manifest what they think, feel, want, are able to make decisions and interact effectively with the environment in which they develop.

Communication Systems

It is also important to distinguish between the Increasing Systems and the Alternative Systems, since although we include them under the same title, they are different and their use is also different.

  • The Increasing Systems of communication are those that complement the oral language in those people who cannot use oral language in a unique way to be able to communicate with the environment. In this way, they use both oral language and the Increasing Communication System.
  • For its part, Alternative Communication Systems are those that replace oral language, so it is the communication channel for people with difficulties.

We could define them as different ways or ways of expressing themselves to oral language and that aim to compensate (alternative systems) or increase (augmentative systems) the difficulties that some people present in language and communication.

SAACs have some characteristics that are important to know and which are considered communication systems.

For example, it must be a structured set of non-vocal codes that are taught through a specific instructional process.

In addition, it should allow people the capacity for representation and should serve for communication with other people. When we speak of communicating we mean that it must be spontaneous, generalized and functional.

Who makes use of the SAAC?

It is important to keep in mind that SAACs are essential for the development of many people with disabilities. Communication is essential for each of us, to integrate and to develop fully.

Both to access knowledge, to interact with other people, to enjoy socially and participate … we need communication. And if oral communication is impaired, all these activities could be difficult for many people.

Therefore, those persons with disabilities who have not developed oral language satisfactorily, SAAC can be used to achieve these objectives.

They are an opportunity offered to people with disabilities to be on an equal opportunity with people who do not present difficulties in communication.

Similarly, it is not important to keep in mind that the person who uses a SAAC does not have to have sensory disabilities nor does he have to have an intellectual disability. This is a misconception that has many people and is the result of misinformation.

As we have already mentioned, anyone with difficulty accessing oral language can make use of the SAAC. However, to name a few of the causes that can lead the person to use it, we could talk about:

  • People with intellectual disabilities
  • People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • People with Cerebral Palsy
  • People with neurological diseases (may be multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s, aphasias, muscular dystrophy …)

It is important to note that when a person makes use of the SAAC, we do not mean that he cannot, at the same time, continue working to rehabilitate oral language.

Some examples of SAAC

There are many different systems, resources and devices that help and favor communication and interaction in people who have difficulty communicating orally.

The objective of all of them is to improve the quality of life of the people and to favor their independence and their personal autonomy.

SAACs include the use of support products as well as graphic and gestural symbol systems. When we refer to support products, we include both technology resources (egg computers or tablets) and non-technological resources (egg communicative books).

In addition, in order to access these resources (whether technological or not), other instruments that we can call access products (keyboards or mice, for example) are also sometimes needed.

SAAC Classifications

We find different classifications within SAAC; to give some examples, we can name that of Lloyd and Karla (1984), who distinguishes between systems of communication without help or those who need help.

  • Thus, among the former, the unassisted or unaided, we find those for which no apparatus or material is required. As examples, we could name sign language, gestures or Cued Speech (complemented word).
  • Within the second group, which needs help, we can find Braille, photographs, the Bliss system or the SPC (Pictographic Communication System) system.

They present advantages and disadvantages. For example, those who do not need help are more manageable; however, they require greater physical capacity.

Those in need of help are more permanent over time and further facilitate understanding but require materials to be able to do so, which could be considered a disadvantage.

If we distinguish between graphic systems and gestural systems, we can also classify SAACs.

  • Within gestures we can find gestures, signs or sign language. Sign language would not be considered here because of its nature as a natural language.
  • Within the graphic systems we can find photographs, pictograms … Perhaps the most used is the Pictographic Communication System.

For its part, inside the supports we can find the communication boards or books. The first are basic and are surfaces where people can put the material (whether words, pictures or pictograms) and the second when they are on different pages.

When we talk about technology supports, we find computers, tablets or electronic communicators that allow us to communicate and personalize the symbols for each person, also adapting the way in which they are accessed. There are people who need mice, keyboards, etc.

Evaluation and intervention with Increasing and Alternative Communication Systems

Some criteria at the time of the evaluation to decide if a person should use a SAAC and which is the most appropriate for each case, we can say, in broad outline, that in all cases it is essential to start as soon as possible to use the SAAC system, since we prevent the lack of communication that could arise.

It is also advisable in all cases that in the different contexts in which the person with communication difficulties is expressed, use the same systems.

The parents or persons with whom the minor (if that is the case) should develop, offering interest, guidance and participation should also collaborate.

It is usually the parents of the minor who decide that, in the face of difficulties, begin to use the SAAC. It is important to have the participation of the parents because if they consider that it is not useful or effective and do not get involved, the communication will not come to fruition.

For its part, we must know that while the SAAC are the necessary means for people with difficulties to communicate and participate actively in society, only these are not enough.

It is necessary, first of all, to count on the person and evaluate what he needs, what he wants and what the capabilities he shows. A good evaluation, however, cannot focus only on the person; we must also evaluate the environment.

You should see what supports the person has, what obstacles they present, how they are and what the characteristics of the environment … all this will help us decide the most appropriate systems for the person. However, this assessment should be ongoing.

When we talk about educating and teaching the SAAC to the person and their environment, we mean that both the person and the people around them (parents, siblings, teachers, professionals …) must focus and train to support the person.

It is necessary to intervene in the natural environment of the person who will make use of the SAAC, also in the family and in the educational, so that the person can see guaranteed access to these systems in any area of ​​his life and in any situation in the one that develops.

If we make the person see the need to communicate and the SAAC’s usefulness for it, we will be motivating him to use it more and more, to feel that he can communicate with interesting things, feel that he has the ability to do it and that people around you are interested in what you want to tell them.

Advantages and disadvantages

As communication systems different from oral language, they have advantages but also drawbacks.

Some of the advantages that we could point out are that they improve relationships with other people and the communicative intention. In addition, they help to understand the met linguistic components of language or require fewer motor demands than talking.

Other advantages may be the fact that it helps people to differentiate words that look phonologically and facilitate comprehension, as well as serve as a bridge for people who cannot communicate and oral language.

However, some drawbacks that we may argue are the fact that they require specific instruction to be able to know and understand the system, so that it can be reduced to being able to use it in every context and with every person.

What can you do when you communicate with a person who uses SAAC?

One of the best tips you can take into account if you interact with a person who makes use of a SAAC is to try to give you time and respect it so that you can use the system.

In the conversation, when these systems intervene, you must be patient and respect the person to use the time you need to express your message in the best way possible.

It is also important that you do not assume an asymmetrical and paternalistic role, assuming that you know what the person means or talking about it. You must wait until the person completes his message and you must respect his turn. Learning to wait and listen properly is essential.

If you do not understand what the person has wanted to tell you through the SAAC, do not worry. Simply convey in a sincere way to the person you have not understood and ask to be told again.

At all times go to her, do not do it through other people. If you consider that communication involves bidirectionality and sharing a conversation, you will have enough tools to communicate with a person who uses a SAAC.

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The person who uses SAAC has the desire to communicate with you and success happens because you both respect and want to communicate. The person, although communicating in a different way to the oral language, has the opportunity to converse through these devices.

These (SAACs) are very important to the person, since these products of support are the ones that offer him the opportunity to communicate with you.

However, the role of the interlocutor is also relevant, you must be open and be motivated to understand and maintain a conversation. Keep in mind that you have the right to respect and respect.

Since no one should be denied the right to be able to communicate with others, SAACs are based on the idea that all people have that right, we all have something to communicate and communicate.

For all this, it is necessary that we all have a means by which we can communicate that allows us to participate in the world around us. In addition, our communication must be respected and taken into account by others.

And finally, we must be able to communicate using the most useful and convenient method to do so.