Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Communication, including AAC, forms a central part of the Curriculum of Beacon
Hill School and Specialist College for Business and Enterprise. It both supports
and is taught through all other areas of the curriculum.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to any way in which
spoken communication is supported or replaced.
The policy sets out reasons why AAC forms part of the curriculum at Beacon
Hill School and Specialist College for Business and Enterprise and specifies how
it is to be taught. It is proposed that the policy will underpin the practice of
AAC throughout the school and prove an informative document for parents and
governors and also for the Local Authority (LA) for the purpose of monitoring
practice. It will be implemented by the whole staff and peripatetic teaching
staff and speech and language therapists.
Communication is the successful transmission of a message from one person to
another and is not limited to the use of formal systems such as speech, sign or
the written word. Some pupils within the school have complex needs including
severe physical and sensory impairment and each child has the ability to
communicate in their own way. Knowledge and skills to be acquired will relate to
the areas outlined in the English policy, Profound and Multiple Learning
Disability (PMLD) policy, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
policy and Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) policy. The overall aim of the
provision of AAC is to provide each pupil with an effective mode of interaction
with as large an audience as possible.
Effective communication requires an easy and quick way of transmitting
thought. For some pupils this will be through traditional sentence word
structure, for others it may require other methods such as single message voice
output devices or many buttons on an electronic aid programmed to say whole
phrases or sentences (eg Proloquo communication software), Eye Gaze for
communication, Makaton signing of key words, or responding to on-body signing.
Single graphic symbols may be used to indicate key words, to make an exchange
(PECS) or in a sentence structure or to convey key ideas sometimes in a
different word order.
The aims of Beacon Hill School and Specialist College for Business and
Enterprise are to ensure that equality of opportunity is provided for all.
To achieve this, all children will have access to augmentative or alternative
methods of communication appropriate to their development, and taking into
account their individual needs and preferences. Where appropriate they will
have access to AAC resources and teaching approaches. We aim to provide a
‘total communication’ environment where all modes of communication are equally
valued and pupils are given opportunities to make choices, initiate conversation
and express their own ideas and opinions.
AAC class resources and low tech individual resources will be provided by the
school for all pupils who require them. Where pupils require individual high tech
AAC resources they will access Proloquo communication software or will be
referred to the local authority communication aids assessment team.
Many of the children at Beacon Hill are developing skills in the area of AAC. As
such communication is at the core of the school’s ethos.
We recognise that pupils may need different modes of communication for
expressive and receptive language and that different AAC methods may be
needed in different situations e.g. it may be easier to sign when in a swimming pool than to use a communication book. An electronic aid may break down and the AAC user needs to have a ‘low tech’ alternative available.
As pupils progress they are encouraged to take an active part in choosing
vocabulary and opinions of parents and others are obtained. We are aware that
the vocabulary we choose restricts the pupil’s freedom of expression and that
we must not always keep to polite utterances and ‘safe’ topics of conversation.
Pupils also have access to vocabulary relevant to the Early Years Foundation
Stage, National Curriculum and School Topic Cycle.
Communication is implicit throughout the school day. The daily routines and
interactions will develop many of the fundamental skills of communication. Time
spent on structured communication/ AAC teaching will vary according to the
needs of the individual child.
Teaching may take place:
• Informally throughout the day. Interaction in natural contexts is
essential if pupils are to generalise AAC skills and use them functionally.
• At snack time, lunchtime and at ‘hello’ and ‘good-bye’ sessions.
• Throughout the whole curriculum but especially in Literacy and English
• In small specific language groups (class based or booster groups).
• In whole group sessions
• In individual sessions led by school or speech therapy staff. This will be
especially important for pupils using Voice Output Communication Aids
(VOCAs) as they will need time to learn how to use the machine before
being able to use it to communicate.
• In communication through play sessions.
• Outside of the school environment.
We work in partnership with parents and others involved with the child and try
to extend opportunities for communication and ensure that pupils’
communication is supported beyond the school.
The pupil and adult communication partner may use one, or more than one, of the
following Augmentative and Alternative Communication methods:
• Makaton and other signing systems appropriate to individual pupils e.g.
British Sign Language (BSL), on-body signing (for Multi-Sensory Impaired
– MSI – pupils).
• Finger spelling
• Movement, gesture, body language and facial expression
• Graphic symbols (primarily Communicate In Print symbols although other
symbol systems may be used if they are more appropriate for a particular
pupil) and photographs.
• Communication charts and books.
• Objects of reference
• Sensory cues (e.g. daily aroma, physical touch, personal identifiers)
• Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) books
• Technology including computer assisted learning.
• Eye gaze
• Switch activated toys and equipment to develop cause and effect and as a
precursor to communication aids.
• Voice Output Communication Aids, including IPads
In order to promote the use of AAC the following communication strategies may
• Giving the AAC user TIME to initiate and respond.
• Encouraging the use of AAC everywhere and at all times.
• Looking at the total communication that the pupil is using e.g. body
language and facial expression as well as the use of their aid.
• Finding time to just ‘chat’ informally without the adult controlling the
• Leaving class AAC resources ‘lying around’ so that they may be used
casually by any pupil.
• Encouraging school staff and others to use the class/individual AAC
resources themselves to find out how it feels to use it and to encourage
pupils and others to regard it as a ‘normal’ means of communication.
• To sign all the time and everywhere not just when speaking to a signing
pupil. Hearing/speaking pupils hear spoken language everywhere. We
should give signing pupils the same opportunity.
We aim to achieve continuity and progression by working together with all those
concerned with the child e.g. speech therapist, physiotherapist, parents, all
specialist teachers, teaching assistants, escorts, lunchtime supervisors,
students, volunteers, intervenors, Sensory Support Services.
Assessments are carried out by the class teacher in consultation with Beacon
Hill School and Specialist College for Business and Enterprise School
staff, Physiotherapists, Speech Therapists and any other relevant agencies
such as the Occupational Therapist, Sensory Support Services, and Educational
Planning is child centred and decisions on approaches to be used are made by
the Class Teacher, AAC co-ordinator, speech therapist, ICT co-ordinator (eyegaze) and any other relevant professional. Individual pupils have Communication targets on PLP’s and may have individual communication plans if appropriate.
Teacher assessment is used in consultation with other staff to evaluate AAC
skills. These are recorded on individual assessment schedules in the pupil files
or through recording against the curriculum and reported to parents in the annual report to parents.
Continual assessment forms the basis for future planning.
We are aware that thorough ongoing assessment of vision and hearing are vital
for a child’s communication needs and that aids to vision and hearing need to be
checked daily and cleaned and maintained in good working order.
The school now has a number of low tech VOCAs and a small number of higher tech aids.
Within the school there are a number of staff with extensive experience
relating to communication including the areas of PMLD, ASC, Intensive Interaction, Makaton and AAC.
CROSS CURRICULAR LINKS:
AAC is essential for all other areas of the curriculum and in particular English.
Opportunities for assessment of Language, Literacy and Communication skill are
identified throughout the curriculum, particularly in activities based on play,
music, drama, movement education, PE and PSHE.