What is AAC?

If your child attends speech therapy sessions you may have heard the therapist use the term “AAC”.

This article explains AAC and how it is used in speech therapy.

What is AAC?

AAC stands for ‘Augmented and Alternative Communication and it’s a method of communicating without speech (alternative) or where speech is used together with another form of communication (augmentative).

A speech pathologist may recommend AAC to any person whose daily communication needs are not met by speech or writing, including young children who are delayed in their speech development.

The purpose of AAC is to provide the person with a form of communication. This helps them to communicate their needs, wants and feelings. It may also positively influence their social skills, school performance, self-esteem, and generally improve their quality of life.

therapists with young boy in wheelchair

AAC users should continue using speech if they are able to, as the system is used to enhance existing speech and only replace speech that is not yet developed.

A speech pathologist may suggest AAC for the following reasons:

  • If speech is slow to develop
  • As a back-up if speech is difficult to understand
  • As a way of communicating most of the time if speech ability is very limited or non-existent
  • To help develop understanding of delayed language.

Types of AAC systems

There are two types of AAC systems: aided and unaided.

Unaided communication systems rely on non-verbal methods to convey messages.

Aided communication systems require some form of external support in addition to the user’s body. The table below provides examples of each system:

AAC can also be divided into ‘low-tech’ and ‘high-tech’.

Low-tech requires the person to use something external to them, either non-electronic or a simple electronic device.

‘High-tech’ types of AAC use electronic devices similar to computers. The table below provided examples for each system:

Finding the right device

A speech pathologist will help you decide which AAC system best suits your needs.

They will take the following factors into account:

  • Age
  • Physical skills
  • Family & culture
  • Level of development
  • Individual interests
  • Personality
  • Communication skills of the individual
  • Level of assistance required
  • Environment/context
  • Cost

Finding the right AAC system takes time and trial and error. The system may need to be modified as the person’s skills, needs, wants and context change. To assist the process, ensure you communicate your family’s everyday routine to your speech pathologist– AAC must occur naturally in the individual’s life to be effective.

boy using AAC

Things to remember:

  • AAC may be either a short or a long-term solution to communication difficulties
  • It takes time and patience
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention
  • Model using the AAC yourself
  • Be consistent in your responses
  • Make sure communication is integrated as part of everyday activities
  • Respond to any attempts to communicate
  • Choose activities that are intrinsically motivating to the student
  • Use a range of communication strategies on a daily basis (eg speech, vocalisation, sign, gesture, writing, body language)
  • Choose vocabulary that reflects what the child already knows and what he might want to discuss
  • The selected communication system should support and encourage interaction with peers

For further information about AAC, speak to a speech pathologist or contact Therapy Focus.