Skip to Content (press ENTER)

What is AAC?

May 4,  2021

Written by: Megan Conlin MS CCC-SLP  

What is AAC?  This is a common question from parents and caregivers of children receiving speech therapy.  AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, includes all forms of communication, other than oral speech, that allow an individual to communicate their wants, needs, and ideas. AAC can be as simple as using gestures, signs, or facial expressions to communicate or as complex as using a special device to communicate and interact with others. When looking at your child’s ability to communicate, it is important to consider if using AAC can help to improve his or her communication skills and independence.  

Types of AAC Systems:  

When thinking about AAC and various forms of technology for communication, it is important to consider the types of AAC systems available.  

“Low tech” systems are primarily paper-based systems where an individual communicates through pointing to pictures on a board or in a communication book. These systems do not “talk” when icons or pictures are touched.  

“Mid tech” systems are either buttons that individuals can access that have a recorded message or static icons that, when pressed, activate a recorded voice.  

“High tech” systems represent what people typically think of if they have previously heard of AAC. High tech systems are computerized devices on various tablets that provide individuals who do not speak a voice a way to combine words, make sentences, and expand language skills. With the boom in technology and applications out there, there are many ways to use high-tech tablets and devices to improve communication skills.   

Who can use AAC?  

The answer to this question is simple. Anyone! However, there are a few things to consider when determining if an individual may benefit from the formal use of AAC. Some questions to ask are: 

  • How is my child communicating currently?  
  • Are they using spoken language or primarily vocalizing and gesturing to communicate? 
  • What is the intent of their communication?  
  • Are they only making wants and needs known, or are they able to communicate for other purposes as well?  
  • Are there communication breakdowns, and can those breakdowns be repaired?   

It is important to note that even though an individual may be speaking, they may also benefit from some form of AAC to expand and “augment” those spoken language skills. I know some may be asking the question, “if my loved one were to use AAC, will they stop speaking, or will it hinder their development of spoken language?" According to research and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, results have shown the opposite.   

The use of AAC does not hinder or prevent the development of spoken language and, in fact, can improve it!  

For more information or to be scheduled for an AAC evaluation, please contact one of our Pediatric Outpatient sites.