Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a way for a child to communicate when the child does not have the ability to use speech as a primary means of communication. AAC can be high-tech, such as a speech-generating device that is programmed to talk for the child. AAC can also be low-tech by using simple pictures, sign language, or a device that plays recorded messages.

Children can use AAC for a short time while speech skills are developing, or for their entire life.

AAC can help people who cannot talk at all. It can also help children who can talk but are hard to understand. A speech-language pathologist will help decide if AAC is appropriate for a child. If the child can benefit from an AAC system, the speech-language pathologist will recommend the appropriate type of AAC system. The speech-language pathologist will also train the child and family members on how to use it effectively.

AAC can help the child to improve his or her ability to interact with others and communicate at home, in school, and in the community. It can help the child to participate in school and become more independent. Using AAC can also decrease inappropriate behaviors, such as tantrums, crying and whining, that are often due to the child’s difficulty with communication.

Many parents are concerned that using an AAC system will prevent their child from developing speech. Although not all children will develop speech after using an AAC system, AAC does NOT interfere with the development of oral speech skills. In fact, AAC can actually help with the development of oral speech.

Current research states that AAC stimulates the development of oral speech by giving the child more opportunities to participate in communication and hear the correct production of sounds. AAC also helps the development of language because it often combines a picture with a word. This helps the child understand what the word means. It also helps the child expressively by using longer, more complex sentences, and it also can teach the child to use correct grammatical structures. Finally, AAC takes the pressure of speaking off children who have trouble with the physical demands of speech production. 

Children know that speech is a faster and better form of communication. Therefore, the child will begin to use speech instead of AAC when he or she develops the required oral-motor skills for speech.

The purpose of AAC is to teach the child another way to communicate. Just as adults provide models of speech that help their children learn to talk, parents also need to provide models when the child is learning to use AAC. Parents may be asked to use the pictures, communication book, or speaking device themselves to help the child learn. This is called aided language stimulation.

Parents may also need to learn sign language or to learn how to program a high-tech communication device. As with learning any new skill, frequent practice between therapy sessions is important so the child is able to use AAC in everyday communication. The parents and SLP may identify specific times for the family to work with the child at home.

For more information, contact the Division of Speech-Language Pathology, 513-636-4341.

Last Updated 02/2016