What is Augmentative or Alternative Communication or A.A.C.?

Any method other than speech that is used for communication.  AAC can be High Tech; such as an iPad, tablet, or computer with special language software, or low tech; communication books, and boards, and no tech; sign language, gestures, or facial expressions.

Who uses AAC?

Individuals who are unable to speak verbally, have some verbal approximations, or have unintelligible speech.  AAC can be used as an alternative when an individual is considered nonverbal, or it can be used to augment limited speech. Many different individuals with a variety of disorders can benefit from AAC including Autism, Down Syndrome, CHARGE Syndrome, Rhett Syndrome,Traumatic Brain Injuries, Stroke, and many others.

AAC Terminology:

High-tech: Any communication system that has the ability to store and retrieve a message and has voice output capabilities.

Low-tech: Doesn’t have voice output capabilities. This method typically involves pictures.

Core Words: High frequency words an individual uses often that can be used in a variety of settings and situations.

Communication Partner: Any person an AAC user communicates with.

Generalization: When are new skills are demonstrated across different situations.

Modeling: When a communication partner uses the AAC system to communicate.

Prompting: The level of assistance needed for a student to engage with their communication system.  Emphasizing a least to most approach.  

Program: Individualizing a communication device, editing settings, or adding/removing vocabulary. 

Access Method: How an AAC user uses their device. This can be with their finger, eye-gaze, or scanning with a switch. 

Mounting: If a user is wheelchair bound then a device needs to be mounted in order for the person to access it.


AAC Comes in Many Forms...

true or false.jpg

AAC Myths

Here are a few common misconceptions regarding AAC that often make families or individuals reluctant to start using it; however, the research that is currently available does not support these misconceptions. Below are a list of those misconceptions, or myths, and what the research says:


Using AAC will inhibit or limit the amount of verbal speech a person produces and should only be used after the option of verbal speech has been ruled out as an option.


  • The use of AAC does not affect motivation to use natural speech and can, in fact, help improve natural speech when therapy focuses simultaneously on natural speech development and use of AAC in a multimodal approach (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006; Sedey, Rosin, & Miller, 1991).
  • Intervention for minimally verbal school-age children with ASD that included use of an Speech Generating Device (SGD) increased spontaneous output and use of new utterances compared with the same interventions that did not include use of an SGD (Kasari et al., 2014).
  • AAC can help decrease the frequency of challenging behaviors that may arise from frustration or communication breakdowns (Carr & Durand, 1985; Drager, Light, & McNaughton, 2010; Mirenda, 1997; Robinson & Owens, 1995).


Children that are preschool age or younger, are not ready for AAC and introducing AAC should be put off until they are school age.


  • Early implementation of AAC can aid in the development of natural speech and language (Lüke, 2014; Romski et al., 2010; Wright, Kaiser, Reikowsky, & Roberts, 2013) and can increase vocabulary for children ages 3 years and younger (Romski, Sevcik, Barton-Hulsey, & Whitmore, 2015).
  • AAC use with preschool-age children has been associated with increased use of multisymbol utterances and development of grammar (Binger & Light, 2007; L. Harris, Doyle, & Haff, 1996; see Romski et al. [2015] for a review).
  • AAC use can lead to increases in receptive vocabulary in young children (Brady, 2000; Drager et al., 2006).

Myth #3

Prerequisite skills such as understanding of cause and effect and showing communicative intent must be demonstrated before AAC should be considered; individuals with cognitive deficits are not able to learn to use AAC.


  • Measures of pre-communicative cognitive ability may be invalid for some populations, and research suggests that impaired cognition does not preclude communication (Kangas & Lloyd, 1988; Zangari & Kangas, 1997). Development of language skills can lead to functional cognitive gains (Goossens', 1989).
  • AAC intervention for children with complex communication needs helps develop functional communication skills, promotes cognitive development, provides a foundation for literacy development, and improves social communication (Drager et al., 2010).

Information referenced from the American Speech Language Hearing Association, for further information regarding AAC misconceptions and current research, please follow this link: