Understanding Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) for Your Child

By Rajini D

Last Updated: January 5, 2024

AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, is a diverse set of tools and strategies designed to support individuals with communication impairments or difficulties. Its purpose is to enhance or replace natural speech for those who may have challenges in expressing themselves verbally. For individuals with speech and language difficulties, AAC serves as a crucial bridge to effective communication. It opens up channels of expression for those who may face barriers in traditional modes of communication, empowering them to convey their thoughts, needs, and emotions more independently.

Role of AAC

The role of AAC in enhancing communication is profound. It not only provides a means for individuals with speech and language difficulties to express themselves but also fosters social interaction, independence, and a sense of agency. AAC enables users to participate more actively in various aspects of life, from education and work to social interactions and relationships.

Furthermore, AAC promotes inclusivity by breaking down communication barriers, fostering understanding, and allowing individuals with speech and language difficulties to engage more fully in their communities. It is a tool that goes beyond words, empowering individuals to connect with others and share their unique perspectives, thoughts, and emotions.

Who can benefit from AAC?

A diverse array of individuals can benefit from AAC, spanning across various conditions and age groups. People with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental disabilities, aphasia resulting from stroke or brain injury, and various other communication disorders can find support in AAC. Additionally, individuals with progressive conditions, such as ALS or motor neuron diseases, may turn to AAC as their communication abilities change over time.

Importantly, AAC is not restricted by age. It caters to the communication needs of children, adolescents, adults, and seniors alike. Whether someone is navigating the early stages of language development, coping with the challenges of aging, or dealing with a sudden loss of communication abilities due to injury or illness, AAC can be adapted to suit their unique requirements.

Categorization of AACs:

AAC comes in various forms and is broadly categorized into unaided and aided systems. Unaided AAC relies on the user’s own body to convey messages, such as gestures, facial expressions, or sign language. On the other hand, aided AAC involves external tools or devices. Within aided AAC, there are low-tech options like communication boards and books, as well as high-tech solutions such as speech-generating devices and specialized software.

Unaided AAC methods are beneficial for their simplicity and accessibility, while aided AAC provides a more extensive range of options tailored to individual needs. Low-tech solutions are often cost-effective and easy to implement, whereas high-tech options offer advanced features like customizable vocabulary, synthesized speech, and adaptability to changing communication needs.

Types of AAC systems:

Apart from AAC methods, there are certain types of AAC systems. Now, let’s delve into those types of AAC systems.

Types of AAC systems

Symbol-Based Systems:

  • What They Are: These systems use pictures or icons as a way to communicate. Each symbol represents a word or an idea.
  • How They Work: Instead of using written words, a person can point to these symbols to express what they want to say. It’s like using a visual language.
  • Who Benefits: They are especially helpful for people who find reading or writing challenging, such as young children or individuals with certain disabilities.
  • Versatility: The symbols can be used in various ways, like on digital devices or printed materials, making them adaptable to different needs.

Text-to-Speech Devices:

These devices convert typed or selected text into spoken words. They are beneficial for individuals who can understand and use written language but face challenges in vocalizing their thoughts.

Communication Boards:

These are low-tech options that involve a board with symbols or words that the user can point to or touch to communicate. They are portable and customizable, making them versatile for various settings.

Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs):

These high-tech devices offer synthesized speech output based on user input. SGDs can range from dedicated communication devices to tablets with specialized AAC apps.

Choosing the right AAC system involves considering the individual’s communication abilities, preferences, and needs. Factors such as motor skills, cognitive abilities, and the level of support available play crucial roles in determining the most suitable AAC solution. A collaborative approach involving speech-language pathologists, caregivers, and the individuals themselves ensures a tailored and effective implementation of AAC that enhances communication and fosters greater independence.

Implementing AAC in Daily Life:

Incorporate AAC into Routines:

Integrate AAC into daily activities, such as meals, playtime, and social interactions. Use AAC during familiar activities to make communication more contextually relevant.

Consistency is Key:

Ensure consistent use of AAC across environments and with various communication partners. Encourage family members, teachers, and peers to learn and use AAC alongside the individual.

Personalization and Customization:

Tailor AAC systems to the individual’s preferences, interests, and communication style. Regularly update vocabulary to reflect changing needs and expanding language skills.

Tips for Caregivers and Educators:

Education and Training:

  • Provide training for caregivers and educators on AAC systems, their operation, and strategies for implementation.
  • Foster a collaborative approach involving professionals to support the AAC user comprehensively.

Create Communication Opportunities:

  • Actively create situations where AAC users can express themselves, fostering independence and confidence.
  • Encourage peers to engage with AAC users, promoting inclusivity.

Be Patient and Supportive:

  • Recognize that the learning curve for AAC may vary among individuals.
  • Offer encouragement, praise efforts, and provide ongoing support.

Challenges and Considerations:

Social Acceptance:

  • Address stigma or misconceptions surrounding AAC use through education and awareness.
  • Encourage open communication and normalize AAC as a legitimate form of expression.

Device Accessibility:

  • Consider the physical and cognitive abilities of the user when selecting or customizing AAC devices.
  • Explore options for device access, such as switches, eye gaze, or touch screens, based on individual needs.

Success Stories and Case Studies:

Diverse Experiences:

  • Showcase stories of individuals across different ages and conditions who have thrived with AAC.
  • Highlight achievements in education, employment, and personal relationships facilitated by effective AAC use.

Resources and Support:

Here are the details of some organizations and online communities related to AAC

Websites and Organizations:

Online Communities:

  • AAC Community on Reddit
  • AAC Discussion Group on Facebook

In conclusion, AAC plays a pivotal role in empowering individuals with communication challenges. By integrating AAC into daily life, addressing challenges, and fostering support from caregivers and educators, we can ensure that individuals of all ages and abilities have the means to express themselves, connect with others, and lead fulfilling lives. The success stories and resources available further underscore the positive impact and potential of AAC in enhancing communication and inclusivity.


1. What is AAC and how does it help people communicate?

AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, is a diverse set of tools and strategies that support individuals with communication difficulties or impairments. It provides alternative ways to express themselves when speech is limited or not possible. This empowers them to communicate their thoughts, needs, and emotions more independently.

2. Who can benefit from using AAC?

A wide range of individuals can benefit from AAC, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental disabilities, aphasia, motor neuron diseases, and many others. It caters to the needs of children, adolescents, adults, and seniors, regardless of the cause of their communication challenges.

3. How do I choose the right AAC system for someone?

The best system depends on the individual’s unique needs, abilities, and preferences. A speech-language pathologist can assess their communication skills and recommend suitable options, ranging from low-tech communication boards to high-tech speech-generating devices.

4. How can I make my own AAC communication board?

There are online resources and templates available for creating simple communication boards. You can personalize them with pictures, symbols, and words relevant to the individual’s daily routines and interests. Consider including basic greetings, requests, and choices to encourage early communication.

5. What are some common challenges faced by AAC users?

Common challenges include learning the symbols or vocabulary, mastering the technology, and overcoming the social stigma associated with using AAC. Consistent support from caregivers, educators, and peers is crucial for encouraging independent communication.

6. How can I help overcome the social stigma surrounding AAC use?

Education and awareness are key. Promote open communication about AAC and normalize its use as a legitimate and valuable tool for expressing oneself. Encourage respectful interactions and inclusivity in social settings.

7. Can you share some examples of people who have successfully used AAC?

Many individuals of different ages and disabilities have thrived with AAC. They achieve educational goals, find employment, and build meaningful relationships thanks to effective communication facilitated by AAC. Search online for inspiring stories showcasing their positive impact.

8. Are there any apps or online tools that can help with AAC?

Yes, several AAC apps and software programs offer vocabulary customization, voice output, and interactive features to support communication on various devices. Explore options aligned with the individual’s needs and technical skills.

9. What are the latest advancements in AAC technology?

The field of AAC is constantly evolving. Research focuses on developing user-friendly interfaces, integrating eye-tracking technology, and utilizing artificial intelligence to personalize communication experiences. Stay informed about new advancements to choose the most suitable solutions.

10 How can I learn more about AAC?

Many organizations and online resources provide information and support on AAC. Contact the Wellness Hub, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Communication Matters, or join online communities like the AAC Reddit or Facebook groups to connect with others and expand your knowledge.

About the Author:

Rajini Darugupally

M.Sc., Speech-Language Pathologist (9+ years of experience)

Rajini is a passionate and dedicated Speech-Language Pathologist with over 9+ years of experience, specializing in both developmental speech and language disorders in children and rehabilitation in adults. Driven by a desire to empower each individual to find their voice, Rajini brings a wealth of experience and a warm, genuine approach to therapy.

Currently, at Wellness Hub, she thrives in a team environment that values innovation, compassion, and achieving results for their clients.

Connect with Rajini to learn more about how she can help you or your loved one find their voice.

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