Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write.

People with severe speech or language problems rely on AAC to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional. Special augmentative aids, such as aided language displays, multilevel communication books and speech generating devices, are available to help people express themselves. This is important to ensure a person achieves communication autonomy (being able to communicate their thought or intents (ASHA website)

When supporting a learner to use AAC, we need to think of what we want to achieve now as well as ensure we are thinking of what we want to achieve long term so we think of these questions:

  • Does the system I have chosen support the AAC user in achieving autonomous communication?
  • Does the system I have chosen have robust enough language to model for a variety of messages all the time in natural contexts?
  • Even if the AAC user expressively communicates on a few occasions with one word, do they have access to full language as without it we have nothing to build on to support their learning.

Typically, forms of AAC are divided into two broad groups:

  • Unaided communication systems– rely on the user’s body to convey messages. Examples include gestures, body language, and/or sign language.
  • Aided communication systems –require the use of tools or equipment in addition to the user’s body, such as aided language displays, multilevel communication books, speech generating devices, written words and spelling.
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