What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

CME WebsitesChild Development, Special Needs Diagnoses

AAC is a form of communication an individual uses that is not verbal/oral speech. This form of communication can be anything from facial expressions to high technology that communicates what the user tells it to.  People who communicate using AAC can be verbal but use additional methods such as facial expressions or pointing to express themselves.  Others may be nonverbal and use various methods or devices as their main source of communication.

There are 2 main types of AAC systems: unaided and aided.  Unaided AAC systems include pointing, facial gestures, sign language, eye gaze and gestures.  We all use these methods of communication everyday but people who have difficulty communicating rely more heavily on these forms.

Aided AAC consists of additional types of equipment that assist the person in communication. This equipment can range from no technology to high technology. A form of no tech can be a communication board/book that consists of pictures, symbols, words, letters or numbers.  A person who uses a communication board/book points to or looks at the desired picture, word etc. to express their wants/needs.

A form of low tech can be simple switches, such as a One Step, Step by Step, Tech/Talk etc. The communicator touches the switch with their hand or a part of the body that can easily access the switch.  Once activated the low tech device then speaks what it has been programmed to say.

A high tech device such as DynaVox, Mercury etc. is designed with synthetic speech output and can look similar to a laptop computer. These devices allow people to communicate and have conversations with others.  They are programmed with pictures, symbols, letters, words, phrases and can be accessed with the method that is best for the communicator (direct select, scanning, head mouse, joystick etc.)

There are many forms of AAC that can assist children and adults who are having difficulty communicating.  If you feel AAC may benefit your child discuss having an AAC evaluation with your speech language pathologist. If you have had any experience with unaided or aided AAC devices please share and post your thoughts and experiences with others who may benefit.