Explained: The Magic Of Augmentative – Alternative Communication

child taught speaking with tools

Do you know children who are struggling to communicate effectively? Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Therapy may be the solution you’ve been searching for. AAC empowers pediatric patients with disabilities, such as speech and language impairments, to express themselves confidently and connect with the world around them. By breaking down communication barriers, AAC opens doors to new opportunities and enhances the quality of life of those children.

Aided Communication

AAC encompasses a wide range of aids, including symbols, charts, photographs, signing, and electronic devices designed to enhance communication skills and break down barriers.

Whether it’s supplementing their verbal abilities, developing language skills, or providing an alternative means of communication, AAC can be tailored to fit a child’s unique needs. From eye-pointing frames to PODD books and Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), various options are available to cater to different levels of complexity.

Unaided Communication

But it’s not just about the technology – effective communication doesn’t always require tools. Unaided communication methods, such as facial expressions, gestures, body movements, vocalizations, sign language, and eye gaze, allow individuals to express themselves without relying solely on verbal language.

These powerful non-verbal tools can convey emotions, thoughts, and desires with incredible accuracy and nuance. Whether it’s a subtle facial expression or a complex sign language gesture, unaided communication methods provide a uniquely personal and effective expression.

Aided Language Input

Aided language input is a strategy that involves a communication partner using an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) system to speak to an AAC user. This powerful approach recognizes the importance of ongoing input, allowing individuals who rely on AAC to learn, practice, and improve their communication skills.

Similar to how parents provide ongoing input to their children before they can speak back, aided language input requires a commitment to learning and using AAC to communicate effectively with those who rely on it. By doing so, children and individuals who need AAC can learn symbols, words, meanings, and associations between them.

This approach offers many benefits, including the opportunity to express a variety of communicative functions, learn how to combine symbols to create increasingly complex messages, use grammar, and develop language skills for social interactions. 

The benefits of aided language input and AAC are endless, as it helps individuals with communication difficulties express themselves confidently and connect with others effectively.

Collaboration with SLP

Collaborating with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can be beneficial in finding the appropriate AAC system for individuals and their families. SLPs can also provide guidance on effectively using AAC to communicate and may work with other healthcare professionals, such as occupational and physical therapists, to address physical barriers that may affect communication.

It’s important to note that not every AAC tool is suitable for everyone, and finding the right one for an individual is crucial. Additionally, while some AAC devices may be covered by insurance, others may not be, so SLPs can help individuals and their families navigate their options and understand the financial aspect of AAC devices.

Who can benefit from AAC? 

The answer is simple: anyone who struggles to use speech to express themselves. This includes children and adults who may be nonverbal, have difficulty speaking, or struggle to be understood when they do speak.

Some individuals may have neurological or genetic disorders such as Rett Syndrome, FoxG1, Angelman Syndrome, Pura Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, Cri du Chat, and other rare genetic diagnoses. Others may have global developmental delays or multiple disabilities that do not have a formal diagnosis.

Young children who are not effectively communicating due to significantly reduced expressive communication skills can also benefit from AAC as children with autism or severe phonological disorders.

AAC is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the specific needs of each individual must be carefully considered. Some may benefit from direct selection methods, such as directly touching the screen with a finger. In contrast, others may need eye gaze or switches to access the technology.

In short, anyone who struggles to communicate effectively through speech can benefit from AAC. 

Essential Traits of an Effective AAC System

A good AAC system should also be customizable to reach the specific needs and preferences of the user, such as the ability to personalize symbols or add new words to the system.

It should also be user-friendly and easy to navigate, with clear and intuitive icons or easily recognizable symbols.

Another essential characteristic of a good AAC system is the ability to track and analyze the user’s communication patterns and progress, allowing for ongoing assessment and adjustment to better meet their communication needs.

In addition, a good AAC system should be compatible with a variety of devices, including tablets, computers, and dedicated AAC devices, to allow for flexibility and portability.

Finally, a good AAC system should have strong technical support and training resources to help users and their communication partners become proficient.

Common Concerns

You may have some questions or concerns if you’re considering using AAC. Fortunately, professionals have conducted extensive research on the topic, which has helped us understand some of the common problems people may have.

Age, Skills, and Timing

One concern people may have whether children need to reach a certain age or milestone before they can use AAC. However, research has shown that AAC can benefit people of all ages, even those as young as three years old. No specific thinking skills, test scores, or milestones must be achieved before using AAC.

Talking and Motivation

Many worries that AAC may hinder speech development or prevent someone from talking altogether. However, research has actually shown that AAC can help improve communication skills, and people who use AAC can still learn to read and write.


Some people may wonder how they can use AAC if they have difficulty moving their arms and hands. But there are many ways to use an AAC system that doesn’t require touching it. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) may work with occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists (PTs) to find the best way for each person to use their AAC system.

Myths about AAC

AAC is an effective tool for people who are unable to communicate effectively through speech. However, several common myths and misconceptions surround the use of AAC. One such myth is that a child’s cognition must be high enough to use AAC. However, this is not true, as there is no way to measure cognition without reliable communication. It is essential to presume potential and provide means of communication to help a child develop language skills.

Another myth is that children need to understand symbols before using AAC. However, children learn signs, including words, through exposure and teaching. Introducing characters and AAC early on can help enhance speech development.

The use of AAC does not hinder speech development, and the wait-and-see approach can limit a child’s communication skills. Language and speech are different, and AAC can help develop language skills even when speech is absent. It is crucial to debunk myths and provide access to AAC for people who need it to enhance their communication skills.

Written by: Sittie Ashia Said

Edited and Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Juhairah Magarang-Said

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