What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is any type of communication strategy for people with a range of conditions who have significant difficulties speaking. An AAC system is combing all communication methods including gesture, vocalisations, pointing to symbols etc. 

An AAC system may be a long or short-term solution for the child who is having difficulty communicating. 

There are different types of AAC:

Unaided systems

  • gesture and pointing 
  • facial expressions 
  • body language 
  • signing 

Aided systems

  • object symbols 
  • photos, drawings, symbols 
  • chat books 
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) 
  • Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) system
  • speech generating devices 
  • spelling 

Why use AAC?

 If a person is not able speak they may need a variety of different types of AAC systems to communicate. Some people also need AAC systems and strategies to understand another person’s message.

People who have difficulties speaking often need both high technology systems, low technology systems and unaided AAC depending on where they are and with whom they are communicating. 

Myths surrounding AAC

There are many myths surrounding the use of AAC and how it is used across different settings. Here are some myths debunked surrounding various AAC systems: 

Myth #1: A person using an AAC device doesn’t need it with them all of the time 

  • Communication is a basic human right. People who cannot speak encounter difficulties in getting information, building relationships, participating in education and employment and being safe. An AAC system is a way for people to communicate their needs, preferences and ideas

Myth #2: AAC reduces the ability for a child to develop language “I just want them to talk” 

  • Using an AAC system will not prevent a child from developing spoken language, or an adult from using whatever speech they can. In fact, using an AAC system can help to support development of spoken language. Children who use AAC need training and opportunities to practice their developing language skills. Through many opportunities to practice their skills in different settings, they will not only develop their communication skills but be able to use the system in a wide variety of situations. 

Myth #3: Young children don’t need an AAC until they reach school age and are not ready to use it until then 

  • Like any early intervention, the early we start something the better. Introduction of an AAC device early can support in the development of natural speech and language and can increase vocabulary for children aged 3 years and younger. Research shows that AAC use with preschool children increased use of longer words and development of grammar. 

Myth #4: You can only use 1 type of AAC at a time 

  • For all people, the type of communication needed throughout each day varies greatly. For example: we talk with a variety of people, such as friends, strangers, superiors, relatives we talk in a variety of places and for a variety of reasons. It is unlikely that any one communication method or system would meet a person’s needs in all of these situations. Children who use AAC often need a variety of methods and systems to let them communicate throughout the day and night!

Myth #5: AAC is expensive and timely “this is taking too long, it mustn’t be working”

  • It’s important to realize that using an AAC device can be a journey. There will be times when your child is excited to use it and seems to learn new words every day…and then there will likely be periods when there is resistance to using it. Using an AAC device can be like learning a new language – you wouldn’t expect someone to pick up Italian after 5, 45 minute sessions a week.
  • Home practice is imperative! It’s important that the parents and other members of the team keep modelling vocabulary and communication, show enthusiasm about communication and have the device available for use. The more you use it, the quicker you’ll learn it!