What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?


Augmentative and Alternative Communication

aacwhatisWhen children are learning to communicate there are several ways they go about expressing themselves, Speech is only one method of communication. When a child is unable to communicate by speech, he must develop alternative ways to communicate so others will understand and respond. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) uses all forms of communication other than oral speech, allowing a child with speech impairments to express himself and communicate with those around him..

Children need direct instruction and practice learning how to use the many forms of communication. This helps them learn when and how to use their newly developed communication skills to express wants, needs and ideas. Assistive technology equipment like hand-held devices or computers can also assist with AAC. Even simple things like pictures and communication board are available to help children increase their social interactions as well as school performance. AAC devices are meant to enhance communication and not replace it. Always encourage your child to use what oral speech he has even while using AAC.

Types of AAC systems

aac-types-of-systemsYou may not realize it but you likely engaged in AAC with your infant. Parents and babies begin communicating with each other the minute baby is born; often through expressions and touch. To assist a child with limited oral speech, there are two main systems of AAC which include:

Unaided Communication Systems

The focus is on physical indicators to promote communication, including:

• Eye-gazes
• Gestures
• Reaching
• Signing

Aided Communication Systems

In addition to the user’s body, aided communication systems require the use of equipment or tools to foster communication and include:

• Photos
• Pictures
• Picture symbols
• Communication boards
• Speech-generating devices

There is no hierarchy to these communication systems. The choice depends on what is most efficient and appropriate for the situation and your child.

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AAC as an Intervention

aac-interventionIntervention using AAC focuses on the communication act – the exchange of ideas, information, feelings, or questions between communication partners. These elements determine which communication tools are best for your child.

The choice of AAC depends upon:

• The context
• The relationship of the participants (parent-child or teacher-student)
• The content of the communication
• All the emotions present in the interaction

Aided communication systems range from no-tech to low-tech to high-tech.

No-tech communication includes objects, people, or items occurring naturally in the immediate environment. These are used as words, key concepts, referents, or symbols to communicate.

Low-tech communication can involve photos, line drawings, picture symbols, representational objects, words, alphabet boards, sentence boards, eye-gaze boards, and simple speech-generating devices.

Speech-generating devices include:

• Digitized voice output switches with single or multiple messages
• Digitized voice output devices with overlays allowing for an array of choices ranging from two to 32 or more
• Digitized voice output devices with interactive screens

High-tech communication refers to dedicated devices and computers adapted to be speech-generating devices. High-tech communication devices have text-to-speech features. Training is likely needed in order to program and adapt for use. High-tech communication devices often require coordination with a team of professionals and experts for ongoing technical support, maintenance, programming, upgrading, and repair.

Communication Goals


Communication goals for all children include learning to:

• Make requests
• Label
• Comment
• Give information
• Express feelings
• Direct the action of others
• Develop relationships with peers and adults
• Ask questions
• Pretend
• Initiate and end social interactions

AAC Tips
aac-tipsIf you are exploring AAC as an intervention to help enhance your child’s communication, here are some tips you may want to consider:

• Locating a speech and language pathologist with expertise in AAC. If your child is over the age of 3, check with your school district’s special education department to see if someone on staff has this expertise. You may be directed to your County Office of Education. If your child is under three or if you prefer to not go through your school district, research local community organizations and individual therapists and inquire about their AAC experience.
• Exposing your child to a variety of devices from different manufacturers during the evaluation. This will help ensure the best device that meets his needs is selected.

Reviewing a listing of AAC products

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