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Making Music and Communication Come Together: The Benefits of AAC in Music Therapy

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to the use of various methods and technologies to support individuals who have difficulties communicating using spoken language. The use of AAC can play a crucial role in supporting clients to express themselves and engage in Music Therapy. Research suggests that AAC strategies facilitate improvement in expressive language abilities by providing an alternative avenue for communication (Oommen & McCarthy, 2015).


There are two types of AAC systems:

  • Aided AAC: This type of AAC involves the use of devices or technology to support communication, such as communication boards, flash card, speech-generating devices, tablets, and computer software.





  • Unaided AAC: This type of AAC does not involve the use of any device or technology. It includes gestures, sign systems, and other forms of manual communication.






For people who do not express themselves through verbal communication, Music Therapy can support people to express themselves in a way that is meaningful and enjoyable to them. Within a music therapy session, AAC can be used to:

  • Facilitating expressive communication: Utilising AAC systems in Music Therapy can support and empower people in expressing their choices and preferences. Examples of this include:

    • Making choices in regard to songs and instruments (for example, an individual may use a symbol to request a particular song).

    • Filling in the blanks during songs (for example, selecting the word "go" during 'Let It Go')

    • Encouraging people to select a keyword during the song (for example, a body part during 'Hokey Pokey' or a feeling during 'Happy and You Know It.'

  • Supporting self-expression: Utilising AAC systems in music therapy can support people in expressing their thoughts and feelings. Examples of this include:

    • Using their AAC system to create their own music or to write and perform original songs.

    • Using their AAC systems to engage in music-related discussion and express their thoughts and feelings about what they hear.

    • Some AAC devices have text-to-speech functions that allow individuals to type or select written messages that are then spoken out loud.

    • People can use AAC to respond to music and express their thoughts and feelings about what they hear. This can be done through gestures, movements, or speech.



In addition, the use of AAC in music therapy can help clients build confidence and self-esteem. When they are able to express themselves through music, they may feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their abilities. This can be particularly important for individuals who may feel frustrated or discouraged by their communication difficulties.


Finally, the use of AAC in music therapy can promote social interaction and engagement. Making music with other people is an inherently social activity, and AAC can support individuals participate in this social experience in a way that is meaningful and enjoyable to them.


 

Georgia is a Registered Music Therapist and joined the Sounding Board team in 2021. A proficient vocalist and guitarist, she is passionate about facilitating personalized, empowering and collaborative music therapy experiences


Georgia has experience working in the community with disabled adults and children, in sub-acute adult neuro-rehabilitation, acute adult and paediatric hospitals, in pediatric oncology, and supporting adults with lived experiences of homelessness and people with complex mental health needs.



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