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What is "Emerging" Communication?
You might think that an "emerging communicator" is an individual
who is just getting started with AAC. That is close, but I want to make
an important distinction between different beginners.
First, the exceptional "beginner" with AAC. These are the people
who are "beginners" but they are able to communicate as soon
as they are given the means. Think of a teen who is intubated after a
spinal cord injury or an adult with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
They only need to be given a WAY to communicate.
The more common "beginner" is someone who is able to communicate
very little, for example a young child with severe motor impairments.
These children rely entirely on non-symbolic communication methods, such
as pointing, gestures, facial expressions, body language and intonation.
They may be learning alternative communication, but the results are inconsistent
So, a definition....
An "Emerging" communicator does not have a RELIABLE
method of EXPRESSIVE communication through SYMBOLIC language.
Note the words in capital letters above; they have special significance:
RELIABLE communication means that the individual is able to
communicate what he/she intends to communicate; there are no accidental
selections that result in unintended messages. Reliability is crucial
EXPRESSIVE communication is emphasized because this model is
based on OBSERVABLE communication behaviors: how an individual uses
symbolic language. It is not based on how well he or she understands
language, something that may or may not be known for emerging communicators.
SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE does NOT mean just using visual
symbols. Instead, it means using something to REPRESENT or SYMBOLIZE
a concept, idea or thought. For example, sounds symbolize meaning
in our speech while letters and words represent meaning in
our writing, and in AAC we use symbols you can hear, see or
feel. Symbolic language permits us to talk beyond the "here
and now" about things in another time or place. In contrast, non-symbolic
communication is limited to the "here and now," for example,
using pointing and gestures to respond to what one sees, hears or feels
in the immediate environment.
(Note: everyone uses non-symbolic communication methods such as gestures
and pointing. The important point here is that "emerging"
communicators are limited to those methods only.)
So, let me restate the definition.
Communication is "Emerging" when the individual...
does not have a RELIABLE method of EXPRESSIVE communication
through SYMBOLIC language
What does "emerging" communication look like?
might limit someone to only "emerging" communication skills?
- Device doesn't match motor capabilities, so unreliable.
- Hidden hearing impairment
- Hidden vision impairment
- Low expectations of other people, so no AAC trials.
- Lack of opportunities to communicate
- Lack of AAC services
- Belief in unreliable methods of communication
Typically, the individual relies on the following AAC techniques:
- non-symbolic communication strategies such as gestures, body
language, facial expressions and familiar partners to figure out what
is meant by these signals.
- perhaps a way to signal "acceptance" (e.g. a smile,
or reaching for something) and "rejection" (e.g. head
turn away, pushing away, etc.) but the individual does not have a reliable
method of answering other yes/no questions.
- Trials of AAC strategies or devices may or may not be happening,
but performance is still inconsistent.
Does "emerging" communication = cognitive deficits?
The short answer is "no, no, no and no"! Emerging communication
means only that the individual does not have a reliable means of symbolic
communication. There could be many reasons (see box to the right) that
have nothing to do with cognition. Furthermore, it is impossible to test
the cognition (or the receptive language) of an individual with severe
motor impairments who is a non-speaker. Nonverbal tests cannot be used
because there is no hand control, and verbal tests cannot be used because
there is no reliable communication beyond pointing and gesturing. There
are MANY stories of accomplished AAC users who were declared severely
"mentally retarded" until someone provided them with a means
Navigation Note: You have a choice now, you can view case examples
of emerging communicators, or you can continue learning about the model,
with Context-Dependent Communication. Be sure to do both eventually.
View Case Examples
of Emerging Communication
Continue on with the model: Context-Dependent