What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?
AAC supports or replaces speech or writing for communication. AAC can take the form of low-tech communication systems such as:
- Pen and paper
- Books with pictures or symbols
High-tech communication systems need some sort of power to work. Computers and tablets that convert text, pictures or symbols to speech fit into this category.
Who are we?
We are a team of AAC and IT professionals. We offer support with the use of high-tech voice output AAC devices within the school and home.
The team consists of:
- AAC Technical Officers that support the assessment process, programming and repairs
- An adviser who can support settings with the use of the device in mainstream and ARB provision
What do we do?
Our goal is to implement the AAC device in such a way that impacts teaching and learning in the classroom. The AAC team will support school staff to monitor an individual pupil’s progress. They will also set targets in line with the pupil’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and Education, Health and Social Care Plan (EHCP).
The AAC Team use a multi-agency approach. This involves professionals working with an individual child or young person from other education and health teams.
There are two main routes to request a high-tech AAC assessment, via CAACAT or AAC West:
Cornwall AAC Assessment Team (CAACAT)
The first route is with Cornwall AAC Assessment Team (CAACAT) which is a multi-agency team. CAACAT are based in Cornwall and can provide an assessment up until the young person's 18th birthday. It is made up of professionals from Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) and Cornwall Council.
Referrals to CAACAT are through the student’s speech and language therapist only. CAACAT provide assessments up until the young person's 18th birthday.
Further advice can be found by contacting AACSupport@cornwall.gov.uk
The student must:
- Be a resident of Cornwall
- Have a GP in Cornwall
- Have a comprehension level above their expressive level, as determined by a Speech and Language Therapist
- Understand and can demonstrate cause and effect
- Show Intentional Communication and has demonstrated the use of a communication device
- Be able to generate at least one form of consistent and reliable movement, e.g. hand, eyes, foot
- Have a communication system in place, e.g. signing, communication book with evidence of use across 2 settings (e.g. home/school)
- Have had experience of using a speech output device, e.g. Big Mack, Go Talk, iPad app
- Have adults in all settings show an ongoing commitment to AAC (home/educational settings)
- Have more than one skilled communication partner in each setting
Currently Cornwall Council’s AAC Team provide Apple devices for communication purposes.
The decision to use these devices is based on:
- The needs of the child or young person
The Assessment Process includes a casework meeting, trial of equipment and reviews, training and the closure of the assessment:
CAACAT will organise an initial meeting called a casework meeting.
This should be attended by:
- The student
- Speech and Language Therapist
- Education setting
- Other professionals
We cannot conduct the meeting without parents/carers and setting staff present. CAACAT might ask to see videos of the student communicating at or before the meeting.
The purpose of the meeting is to:
- Have an open discussion on the communication needs of the student
- Offer a range of trial devices that may meet the student's needs
- Agree which equipment to trial and how to set this up for accessibility
- Set and agree goals for the trial period for home and for the education setting
Trial of Equipment and Reviews
The AAC Technical Officer will order the agreed equipment. They will also programme the software as agreed at the casework meeting. Each device is set-up bespoke to each student and so there will be some liaison to agree the correct vocabulary.
The AAC Technical Officer will deliver the equipment and show the young person, parents/carers and school staff how to use it.
The Specialist Speech and Language Therapist will organize review meetings with the parents/carers and educational setting. There may be one or more reviews.
The reviews will focus on:
- The needs of the student
- What is going well with the AAC device
- What needs to improve
- Progress on the goals set at the casework meeting
The current equipment trial may continue or finish. Sometimes a new trial of equipment starts if the current equipment is not right for the student.
Training and Closure of the Assessment
At the end of the trial, training will given to the student, parents/carers and the educational setting. The student's trial will finish and the student can loan the equipment on a long-term basis. There are restrictions and agreements for the loan.
There will be no further involvement from CAACAT unless the equipment does not meet the student's needs.
Cornwall Council's AAC Team provide the long-term support for the use of the equipment. The student's Speech and Language Therapist can also continue to support the student if appropriate.
Every two years, CAACAT will contact the parents/carers to review the equipment.
The second route is through AAC West. AAC West are a specialist NHS hub for high-tech AAC. AAC West carry out assessments for those young people with more complex access needs or those over the age of 18.
AAC West is commissioned by NHS England to provide an AAC service to the South West of England and they work with both adults and children. There are teams based in Bristol and Plymouth.
CAACAT is able to refer a student for an assessment by AAC West. CAACAT will then support the referral process alongside the student's speech and language therapist. Once an assessment by AAC West is complete, and equipment is loaned, the AAC Team can support the student longer-term.
To find out more about AAC West please visit the AAC West of England Specialist Services website.
The AAC Adviser can offer support to students who have an AAC device on loan to them. The support is short-term and outcomes-focussed. The adviser can assess the student's ability to use the device in the educational setting. They can also suggest targets and monitor progress.
The AAC Adviser can also:
- Support with differentiating the curriculum and modifying teaching approaches
- Assess the impact of language and communication difficulties on a pupil's access to the curriculum
- Advise and support with appropriate learning targets
- Promote a total communicative approach within the school setting
- Carry out an assessment for mounting a device to a desk or wheelchair
- Training on use of the hardware and software
- Promote successful transitions
- Signpost to documentation and resources for implementation in school and ongoing professional development
- Additional bespoke training (there is a charge for this)
The adviser can also support with exam access arrangements for students using high-tech AAC.
Please see the latest exams access guidance below:
We offer a range of training to students and adults supporting them in using high-tech AAC equipment and can signpost to other training opportunities provided by others.
Please email us at AACSupport@cornwall.gov.uk for information on the latest dates on courses we offer, which are outlined below.
All training is advertised on our Services for Schools platform. The training is provided free but a login will be required to access the training.
Training given to the student and the adults supporting them at the end of the trial period. This will enable all to programme the software they are using for long-term use.
AAC STEPS to Success training
The course provides the foundation steps for success at implementing the equipment. We encourage parents/carers and education staff to attend this training during or immediately after the trial.
The aims of AAC STEPS to Success training include:
- To develop greater awareness of the high-tech AAC journey
- Explore the challenges around using high-tech AAC
- Explore the Means, Reasons and Opportunities model. Know how these impact the student’s communication
- Empower you to develop the student’s communication through modelling
- Realise the importance of a total communication approach in all settings
- Be aware of support networks to develop the skills of the student and the adults supporting them
- The opportunity to ask further questions and troubleshoot any difficulties around the student's communication
AAC in the Mainstream Classroom
The course aims to give teachers and support assistants the tools to make high-tech AAC successful in their classrooms. The course will identify challenges of using high-tech AAC as a main means of communication and how to overcome these. It will cover aspects such as:
- Vocabulary development
- Assessing and testing, including assess, plan, do, review cycles
- Target setting
- Phonics and reading development
- Teaching writing to those using high-tech AAC
- Adapting the curriculum
- Extending Means Reasons and Opportunities in the classroom
AAC and Literacy
The course is aimed to give teachers and support assistants the tools to make literacy whilst using AAC successful in their classrooms. The course will identify challenges of using AAC when teaching and learning literacy. You will come away with some teaching models used for learners with more complex needs and take-away ideas and suggestions for literacy in your classroom.
It will cover aspects such as:
- Alphabet and phonological awareness for AAC users
- Assessing and testing, including assess, plan, do, review cycles
- Phonics and reading development
- Adapting the curriculum and learning opportunities
Effective Communication Partners
A virtual workshop that supports parents/carers and professionals supporting children who need to use high-tech aided communication. The workshop enables parents/carers and professionals to be effective communication partners and to support other communication partners to be effective, too. Evidence tells us that effective communication partners can have a direct positive impact on our AAC learners, allowing them to develop their communication skills further.
It will cover aspects such as:
- What makes an effective communication partner
- The strategies needed as an effective communication partner
- How to support an AAC learner and/or a competent AAC user
- Ways support other communication partners in your setting or home to be effective in communicating with your child/student
We have created a YouTube channel where you can access clips and films that you provide you with support on how to use AAC technology.
Strategies for Success
This guide outlines why modelling using the communication aid is vital for a student to develop their AAC skills.
A great tool for target setting, Circles of Communication Partners focusses on who the student is able to communicate well with and who needs further support to communicate well with the student.
Core words make up 80% of the words we use everyday, fringe words make up the other 20%. This resource gives you examples of both and shows you why it is important to focus on and teach core words.
This guide is useful for parents and carers who are new to using high-tech AAC devices. It shares some excellent strategies for success, has some suggested games to play at home and busts some common myths around learning to use AAC.
This guide outlines the four main competency areas for AAC. It’s a useful tool for target setting when you are unsure of what your student needs to work on next in terms of developing their AAC skills.
A one page summary of the student’s AAC device and how to communicate well with the student. It is useful for new staff coming in to the setting such as supply staff, new staff members and as a summary on the student’s communication needs. This should be created for every student using AAC. The document has an example and a blank copy for you to adapt.
General Resources and Useful Guides
A printable document to put up in your classroom and remind us all of what we need to do to be a good communication partner.
A handy guide to give you some great tips in implementing a device in a mainstream school or area resource base (ARB).
A handy guide for classrooms on ensuring that AAC devices are well embedded in literacy lessons. Useful for both primary and secondary settings.
If you’re having a difficulty with implementing a device, check these common problems and solutions to guide you.
This is another great printable resource that reminds us how to ensure that we are being inclusive in our practices.
The term ‘transition’ describes the life changes that a student may go through. Key Transition points include moving from:
- Class to class
- Early years to Primary School
- Primary School to Secondary School
- Secondary School to work, college or university
- Leaving education
It is important to ensure a smooth transition when any of these changes occur. For all transitions it is important to share information on how a student uses their high-tech AAC.
For those students who have a high-tech AAC device on loan from the Council will have support from their AAC technical officer until they are 25, leave education or move out of county.
When students leave education or move out of county the support service will stop and those with devices on loan from Cornwall Council will have the device gifted. Parents and carers will then be responsible for the device.
It is important that settings prepare for transitions and start to plan ahead. Settings should invite AAC Tech Officers to the EHCP review along with other professionals involved to ensure they can meet the team and make plans for training and support for the new class or setting.
It is important to remember to share information such as passwords and other important information.
You can use the 'AAC Transition Checklist' to remind you of what to check and what information needs to be handed over, and the ‘Me and My AAC’ sheet to create a summary of key information:
As part of our communications with parents/carers and settings of students using high-tech AAC, we are creating regular newsletters. Each newsletter contains team updates, resources, video links and information about suppliers.
To access our monthly newsletter:
- Parent/carers: Register to sign up for the newsletter, and please ensure you select 'AAC Team Newsletter'
- Professionals: Register an account with the Service for Schools platform to sign up for the newsletter. You can also access previous newsletters through the site.
Provides specialist NHS England AAC Assessments for children and young people in Cornwall with more complex communication aid needs.
A charitable organisation which covers all of the UK. Their website provides information, events and resources about education and research in the field of AAC.
A website for AAC guidance and advice with great links to videos, online learning modules and downloadable resources.
An American-based high-tech AAC podcast that is released weekly. Each episode discusses one element of AAC and has guest interviewees with celebrated AAC experts from around the world. Although based around American processes, the tools, strategies and AAC systems that are discussed are useful for all those on their AAC journey.
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