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Augmentative & Alternative Communication

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

AAC refers to any mode of communication method that helps or replaces speaking or writing for individuals who struggle to produce or comprehend spoken or written language. This may include pointing to or exchanging pictures, using sign language, using a Speech Generating Device (SGD) that will speak a message when a user pushes a button, or various other forms of communication. See below for more information.


Different Forms of AAC:


No-Tech: Gestures, manual signs, facial expressions, vocalizations, body language, etc. 


Low-Tech: Pictures, writing, communication boards, objects, etc.


High-Tech: SGD’s with software programs such as, TouchChat, LAMP, Proloquo2go, Snap + Core First, and many more!


Who Benefits from Using AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication is designed for individuals who have difficulty executing verbal speech to communicate their everyday wants and needs. AAC is also beneficial when a child’s speech output is not adequate to communicate everything they need to communicate, including social communication (greetings, commenting, protesting, etc.) with family members and their peers. AAC is used with various populations, including people with Verbal Apraxia and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many children and adults with autism are often labeled as “non-verbal”, but as many therapists and parents know, our kids have a lot to say, they just are unable to speak the words. Research has shown that individuals with autism are visual learners (Bernard-Opitz et al., 2010), and when visual strategies are utilized, “it not only helps individuals on the autism spectrum function more successfully, but also facilitates language skills and helps manage behaviors.”  


Are there Prerequisite Skills a Child Needs Before Trying AAC?

There is a common misconception that a child must have a certain number of skills before trialing an AAC device, but that is not true! There are no behavioral or cognitive prerequisite skills that need to be demonstrated before AAC is introduced. It is important to presume competence and potential, which means we believe that all individuals have the potential to connect with others, learn, communicate, and develop literacy skills no matter what their diagnoses may be.


For more information on the “prerequisites” of AAC,  Please read this article from one of our colleagues in the field of Speech and Language Pathology.


Will AAC Keep my Child from Talking?

This is a very common question, yet valid concern, we receive from parents when we first discuss AAC options. Research has demonstrated that using AAC does NOT limit a child’s ability to learn to talk, in fact AAC have been shown to do the opposite! Many children make great gains in their speech because an AAC system helps them build functional communication skills. 

To read more about this research, click here.

  • Presume competence and potential of the AAC user’s skills and abilities!

  • MODEL a variety of language!

       Greetings, wants/needs, emotions,

       comments (i.e. wow! cool, pretty,                 etc.), basic concepts (i.e. big, small,           same, different)


  • Allow wait time (10-20 seconds) before re-prompting or repeating your question


  • Provide Aided Language Input and sit closely with the AAC user to assist when needed.

Click here to learn more about this topic


  • Allow the user to learn the system by providing them the opportunity to explore their AAC device—we refer to this as “babbling” (pressing a variety of buttons)


  • Follow a prompting hierarchy

Click here for a great resource


  • Have AAC available at ALL times

  • Keep symbol placement consistent

       Provide function words, including a           variety of verbs, describing words,             and nouns (i.e. go, stop, help, all                 done, jump, swing, amazing, happy, 

       tired, hungry, etc.).

  • Ask open-ended questions

  • DON’T expect an AAC user to have the ability to communicate without support and models provided

  • DON’T only focus on teaching nouns and requesting

  • DON’T over-prompt or repeat your questions too quickly

  • DON’T remove the device from the AAC user’s possession

  • DON’T stop a new AAC user from “babbling”—this is how they develop navigation skills/ learn the placement of symbols

  • DON’T automatically provide hand-over-hand assistance or over-prompt


  • DON’T keep the users AAC system out of reach

  • DON’T move symbols on the users AAC system

  • DON’T focus on teaching vocabulary that is not functional to the AAC user

  • DON’T only ask yes/no questions

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