Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

You may have seen someone write in a notebook to answer a question. Maybe you have seen people using sign language or other gestures. You may have seen someone push buttons on a computer that speaks for them. These are all forms of augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC.

AAC includes all of the ways we share our ideas and feelings without talking. We all use forms of AAC every day. You use AAC when you use facial expressions or gestures instead of talking. You use AAC when you write a note and pass it to a friend or coworker. We may not realize how often we communicate without talking.

People with severe speech or language problems may need AAC to help them communicate. Some may use it all of the time. Others may say some words but use AAC for longer sentences or with people they don’t know well. AAC can help in school, at work, and when talking with friends and family.

Types of AAC

There are two main types of AAC—unaided systems and aided systems. You may use one or both types. Most people who use AAC use a combination of AAC types to communicate.

Unaided Systems

You do not need anything but your own body to use unaided systems. These include gestures, body language, facial expressions, and sign language.

Aided Systems

An aided system uses some sort of tool or device. There are two types of aided systems—basic and high-tech. A pen and paper is a basic aided system. Pointing to letters, words, or pictures on a board is a basic aided system. Touching letters or pictures on a computer screen that speaks for you is a high-tech aided system. Some of these speech-generating devices, or SGDs, can speak in different languages.

AAC and Autism

The use of AAC for children with autism does not prevent a child from speaking.  In fact, these studies reported that AAC may actually increase speech instead.

This is not to say that AAC will definitely help a child learn to speak, but many children across the world have found benefits from using AAC and no studies have found any ill effects.  With no risks and possible improvements (in terms of speech production), it’s definitely worth a try!

On top of that, AAC allows a non-verbal child the ability to communicate a message to the listener even if he is not able to speak it.  Imagine if your child with autism was able to push a button to tell you what he needed instead of crying and throwing a fit on the floor.  So what if he wasn’t able to tell that to you with spoken words.  He was able to get a message to you and you were able to help him.  That can go such a long way in building trust between a non-verbal child and the adults in his world.

AAC Options for Children with Autism

  1. Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  2. Low-Tech Communication Devices
  3. High-Tech Communication Devices
  4. Tablet or Smart Phone AAC Apps
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