Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)

 Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a key focus area for the speech pathology department of Novita Children's Services. Some children may not develop sufficient speech to communicate well and therefore require some form of AAC Novita speech pathologists work with children, their families and other team members to design the best possible communication system  for each child and their family, helping children to reach their full potential.

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What is AAC?

AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication:

Therefore AAC is the term used for all communication that is not speech, but is used to enhance or to replace speech. An AAC System means the whole combination of methods used for communication, for example, gestures, eye pointing, vocalizations and pointing to symbols.

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How does AAC help?

AAC systems can help people who cannot speak to:

  • Girl using communication devicecommunicate (our most powerful skill) - "If all of my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would regain all the rest" [Webster, Daniel. Politician & orator (1782 1852]
  • develop language skills
  • decrease frustration
  • increase socialisation - "To me and others like me, being able to communicate puts us in society. It lets us have a voice. For me, having a Liberator (voice output device) has changed my life completely." [McFadden (1995) - refer to the CALL Centre Education link in the Related External Links list on this page]
  • increase participation
  • have control over what happens to them.

AAC might be suggested:

  • if speech is slow to develop
  • as a back-up if speech is difficult to understand
  • as a way of communicating most of the time if speech ability is very limited or non-existent
  • to help develop understanding of delayed language.

An AAC system may be either a short or a long-term solution to communication difficulties being experienced by a child.

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Does AAC hinder the development of speech?

"Children will use the quickest, most effective, and most accessible way available to them to communicate. Speech beats any other AAC system if it is available to the child. Since AAC includes all communication methods, intervention also addresses improving functional verbal skills. Available research indicates that AAC facilitates spoken language by increasing interaction, language skills, and/or providing a voice output model for speech." (Cynthia J, Cress PhD)

For further information on this topic, see Frequently asked questions.

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Examples of children who may be assisted by AAC

  • Peter's story - a 4-year-old child with Cerebral Palsy.
  • Renée's story - Renée is 2 years old with a physical disability and problems with her vision.
  • Jack's story - Jack is a baby with severe and multiple disabilities.

View the document  AAC stories (PDF - 44Kb) 

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Types of AAC?

AAC covers a large number of ways of communicating. It can include one or more of the following:

  • Natural communication methods, such as:

I dont know gestureLong description link

Luca using PODD

    • Chat books - these are small books (often a photo album) that may contain photos, pictures, symbols, words and messages about a person

    ChatbooksLong description link

    • Speech generating devices - communication boards or displays on a machine which speak a message when a particular button is pressed

    Communication deviceLong description link

    • Spelling - using an alphabet board or typing device to spell out words and messages

Spelling boardLong description link 

For more details, view/download the document  Types of AAC (PDF - 189Kb).

Disclaimer: General information only - you should consult with the relevant professional before using it with a particular child. See further disclaimer details

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Combinations of AAC methods

Boy using communication deviceFor all people, the type of communication needed throughout each day varies greatly. For example:



Augmentative and alternative communication. Communication that attempts to compensate for the impairment and disability of children with severe expressive communication disorders through the use of symbols, signing and devices.

AAC System

A system which may include any of the following – signs, symbols, communication dictionary, speech generating device. Children may use some or all of these ways of communicating.

Body language

Communicating a message by the movement or positioning of any part of one's body, for example, by raising one's eyes and sighing.

Eye pointing

A way of communicating where the person uses their eyes to look in the direction of a particular item or symbol to indicate choice.


Movement of the hands, head or body to emphasise an idea or emotion.


When all those around the child use the child's augmentative and alternative communication system when communicating with them. The child should also be expected to use the system.


The way things or people relate to each other.


Things that a treating person does to help the person requiring treatment.


The ability to read and write.


Demonstrating or showing how to do something by example.


A written request for an item (such as an item of equipment) made out by a professional.


The way in which people are influenced by others in the community, which in turn influences how they get along with them.

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