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Glossary of AAC terms

Topics are in alphabetical order. To find a particular abbreviation, select from this list: AAC, ALS, ASD, CCN, CP, CVA, ISAAC, MND, MS, PD, PWUAAC, PMLD, VOCA


AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is the term used to describe various methods of communication that can ‘add-on’ to speech and are used to get around problems with ordinary speech. AAC includes simple systems such as pictures, gestures and pointing, as well as more complex techniques involving powerful computer technology.
Read more on our website page: What is AAC?

Acquired
A disease or condition/characteristic that is not congenital but develops after birth; common acquired conditions include stroke/CVA, brain injury, brain tumour, dementia, motor neurone disease (MND), multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. These conditions are more common to adults than children.

Aided Communication
Methods of communication which involve additional equipment, such as a picture chart, a communication book, a computer or special communication aid. Aided methods of augmentative communication may involve equipment which does not need batteries or power, these are commonly called 'low tech'. Aided communication also includes devices which need batteries or power which are commonly called 'high tech'.
Also see glossary term: Unaided communication.
Read more on our website page: What is AAC?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
An acquired and degenerative condition, most often affecting people in the 40 to 70 year age group. It is the most common degenerative disease of the motor neurone system, with the term reserved for the form of MND that involves upper and lower motor neurones. The disease affects the motor cells (neurones) in the brain and spinal cord. Without nerves to control the muscles, there is loss of control to move around, speak, swallow and breathe. Symptoms may include muscle weakness/waste and paralysis. In most cases ALS does not affect intellect, memory or the senses.
Also see glossary term: Motor neurone disease (MND). Note: MND is more commonly used as a generic term in the UK for all variants of the disease, with ALS a term more commonly used in the US.
Useful information at: Motor Neurone Disease Association, MND Scotland

Aphasia
Loss of language and communication skills, usually after suffering a stroke. (Dysphasia is the partial or complete impairment of the ability to communicate.)

Apraxia
Loss of ability to perform skilled, purposeful movements and gestures with normal accuracy, although physically able and willing to do them. (Dyspraxia is a difficulty forming words and letters when speaking because of a partial difficulty performing co-ordinated movements, which is not related to muscle weakness or comprehension.)

Asperger syndrome
A developmental condition which is a form of autism where people have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
Also see glossary term: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Augmentative and Alternative Communication - see glossary term: AAC.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
A developmental, spectrum condition, which affects children throughout their lives. It is often referred to simply as 'autism'; this congenital condition is a spectrum disorder because it affects people in a variety of ways and to varying degrees, characterised by difficulties with social interaction. Communication is commonly affected because social interaction is a two-way process. Additionally, many children with an ASD are delayed in their use of language. (Asperger syndrome is a form of autism where people have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.)
Also see glossary terms: Complex communication needs; Learning disabilities.
Useful information at: The National Autistic Society.

Brain / Head injury
An acquired condition, resulting from a trauma to the head. It occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain; possible causes include road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and other accidents. Communication problems are common after a brain injury and many people experience more than one area of difficulty, depending on the areas of the brain affected and the severity of the injury: language impairment (aphasia, dysphasia); disorders of speech affecting speech clarity and control (dysarthria, dyspraxia); and possible memory impairment and attention difficulties.
Useful information at: Headway - the Brain Injury Association, Child Brain Injury Trust.

Brain tumour
An acquired condition, which may affect children or adults. The various malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous) tumours can damage brain tissue and interfere with various functions, including muscle weakness and problems with balance, co-ordination, vision, hearing, speech, communication or swallowing. A brain tumour may cause these symptoms because the space it takes up in the skull puts pressure on the brain, or because it is disturbing the function of the part of the brain it's growing in.
Useful information at: MacMillan Cancer Support, Brain Tumour UK.

CCN - see glossary term: Complex communication needs

Cerebral palsy (CP)
A developmental condition, with symptoms usually evident during the first three years of life. It is a group of chronic neurological conditions affecting body movements and muscle co-ordination, caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain. 'Cerebral' means related to the brain or cerebrum and 'palsy' refers to complete or partial muscle paralysis. CP exists at birth and is not progressive. There are different types of cerebral palsy and no two people are affected in the same way. Effects may be mild or much more profound and some people with cerebral palsy may, for example, have learning disabilities or be deaf. Speech may be difficult where facial muscles are affected and other problems with vision, hearing, motor skills or cognitive skills will affect communication.
Also see glossary term: Complex communication needs; Learning disabilities.
Useful information at: Scope; Capability Scotland; The Cedar Foundation.

Complex communication needs (CCN)
A term used in relation to complex developmental conditions that affect children throughout their lives. It refers to severe speech, language and communication impairments including autism spectrum disorders (ASD), cerebral palsy (CP), certain learning disabilities and profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).

Congenital (= developmental)
A disease or condition/characteristic that is present at birth and affects a child’s development throughout his/her life. Examples include cerebral palsy (CP), autism (ASD) and Asperger syndrome, Down's syndrome and other learning disabilities, multiple disabilities and complex communication needs (CCN).

Dementia
An acquired condition, generally affecting people over the age of 40. It is a set of progressive symptoms including loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning which affect the language skills used in understanding and the ability to communicate when talking, reading and writing. The most common types are Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
Useful information at: Alzheimer's Society; Alzheimer Scotland; Dementia Action Alliance.

Developmental (= congenital)

Down's syndrome
Down's syndrome is the most common specific cause of learning disabilities. The Down's Syndrome Association advise that "Down's syndrome is not a disease. People with Down's syndrome are not ill and do not 'suffer' from the condition."
Useful information at: Down's Syndrome Association; Down's Syndrome Scotland.

Dysarthria
Speech that is slurred, slow, and difficult to understand.

Dysphagia
Difficulty in swallowing.

Dysphasia
Partial or complete impairment of the ability to communicate. (Aphasia is the loss of language and communication skills, usually after suffering a stroke.)

Dyspraxia
Dyspraxia is a difficulty forming words and letters when speaking because of a partial difficulty performing co-ordinated movements, which is not related to muscle weakness or comprehension. (Apraxia is the loss of ability to perform skilled, purposeful movements and gestures with normal accuracy, although physically able and willing to do them.)

Huntington's disease
An acquired condition, usually affecting people between the ages of 30-50. Previously called Huntington's chorea, it is a brain disorder with progressive neurodegeneration leading to motor, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms. All areas of communicative functioning are affected.
Useful information at: Huntington's Disease Association.

ISAAC
The International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) is a worldwide organisation that focuses on the needs of people with complex communication needs who may benefit from AAC systems to maximise their opportunities and enhance their life.
Website: www.isaac-online.org

Laryngectomy
A laryngectomy is the partial or complete surgical removal of the larynx (voice box), usually as a treatment for laryngeal cancer. There are several methods to help you to produce sound and learn to speak again.
Useful information at: MacMillan Cancer; Cancer Research UK.

Learning disability
A birth condition, affecting children and continuing throughout their adult life which is characterised by difficulty understanding new or complex information, learning new skills and living independently. Severe learning disability is commonly due to specific genetic or physical abnormalities, with Down's syndrome the most common specific cause. Fragile X syndrome is also a genetic cause, where all boys but only a third of girls have mild, moderate or severe learning disabilities. Some people with a learning disability also have other physical and emotional conditions; for example, some people with cerebral palsy can have a learning disability and, although autism is not a learning disability, around 50% of people with autism may also have a learning disability.
Also see glossary terms: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), Cerebral palsy (CP), Complex communication needs (CCN) and Profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).
Useful information at: Mencap; Enable Scotland; Down's Syndrome Association; Down's Syndrome Scotland. On mental health: Mind; Scottish Association for Mental Health; Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health.

Locked-in syndrome
A rare, acquired neurological condition, resulting in complete inability to speak or move. It is characterised by complete paralysis of voluntary muscles in all parts of the body except for those that control eye movement. This syndrome may result from traumatic brain injury or diseases affecting circulation or nerve cells. Thinking and reasoning function normally, but there is inability to speak or move.
Also see glossary terms: Brain injury and Motor neurone disease (MND).

Motor neurone disease (MND)
An acquired and progressive condition, most often affecting people in the 40 to 70 year age group. It is a degenerative disease of the motor neurone system. The disease affects the motor cells (neurones) in the brain and spinal cord. Without nerves to control the muscles, there is loss of control to move around, speak, swallow and breathe. Symptoms may include muscle weakness/waste and paralysis. In most cases, MND does not affect intellect, memory or the senses, but people experience varying degrees of vocal or physical impairment that may cause problems with communication.
Also see glossary term: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Note: MND is more commonly used as a generic term in the UK for all variants of the disease, with ALS a term more commonly used in the US.
Useful information at: Motor Neurone Disease Association; MND Scotland.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)
An acquired neurological condition, normally diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, with a set of physical symptoms including vision, fatigue, spasms, tremor, speech and swallowing. The usual communication difficulty is dysarthria - speech that is slurred, slow, and difficult to understand. This happens if parts of the brain are damaged, for example connections between the brain and the spinal cord (the area known as the brainstem). Speech may be affected in various ways such as slurred speech, weak voice, pitch control, pauses between syllables.
Useful information at: Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Parkinson's disease (PD)
An acquired condition, usually affecting adults over the age of 50. It is a progressive neurological condition, where a lack of the chemical 'dopamine' causes movements to become slower and a tremor often develops.
Useful information at: Parkinson's UK.

People who use AAC (PWUAAC)
A term used to describe people who uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication method to assist with their communication.
Read more on our website page: People who use AAC.

Prion disease
A rare acquired condition, mainly affecting adults but a small percentage of cases run in families. It is a group of progressive neurodegenerative conditions, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). It can cause dysarthria - speech that is slurred, slow, and difficult to understand. There is often a reduction in the content of language, word finding difficulties and repetition of words or sentences.
Useful information at: Medical Research Council Prion Unit.

Profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD)
A congenital condition affecting children and adults. PMLD is a commonly used term for profound and multiple learning difficulties, incorporating intellectual or developmental disabilities and physical disabilities. Most people will need to use a wheelchair and will have hearing and sight problems as well as non-verbal communication. Most people with PMLD don't use formal communication like words and symbols, although some people may use or understand some gestures. This makes communication very difficult.
Also see glossary terms: Complex communication needs (CCN) and Learning disabilities.
Useful information at: PMLD Network; Mencap; Enable Scotland. On mental health: Mind; Scottish Association for Mental Health; Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health.

Spinal injury
An acquired condition affecting children and adults. Injuries to the cervical spinal cord may result in dysarthria - speech that is slurred, slow, and difficult to understand.
Useful information at: Spinal Injuries Association.

Stroke / cerebrovascular accident (CVA)
An acquired condition, mainly affecting older adults. Stroke-CVA is the medical term for sudden loss of sensation and control caused by rupture or obstruction of a blood vessel of the brain, e.g. a blood clot. A stroke may be referred to as CVA - cerebrovascular accident. In a child, an interruption to the brain's blood supply for a very brief time may cause a stroke. Common communication difficulties after a stroke are aphasia (loss of language and communication skills) and dyspraxia (difficulty forming words and letters when speaking).
Useful information at: The Stroke Association.

Unaided Communication
Methods of communication that do not involve a piece of additional equipment such as speaking, gesturing or signing.
Also see glossary term: Aided communication.
Read more on our website page: Getting started: communication without technology.

Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA)
Any device whose main function is to use output speech as a means of communication. Voice Output Communication Aids can range from simple single-message devices which use recorded speech, to complex computer-based systems which store many messages and use a computer-generated voice.
Read more on our website page: VOCAs.