What does AAC mean?
AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication:
Augment means to add to or to enhance. For example, we can augment speech by using gestures, eye pointing and body language.
Alternative means a choice or a substitute. We can use alternative communication to speech by pointing to symbols, signing or by spelling.
Communication means to send and receive messages with at least one other person.
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.
How does AAC help?
AAC systems can help people who cannot speak to:
- develop language skills
- decrease frustration
- increase socialisation
- increase participation
- have control over what happens to them
AAC may 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.
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)
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:
- pointing and gestures
- facial expressions
- body language
Methods that can be taught, such as:
Signing – this involves the use of a formal set of signs, or signs which are particular to an individual. Signing is useful to help children to understand language. The sign can be seen and held for slightly longer if needed, whereas speech disappears as soon as it is spoken. Signing can also be used as a means of expression with other people who know signs.
Object symbols – these are objects such as small versions or parts of objects which represent an activity, object or person (for example, a set of keys represents that its time to go in the car)
Photos, drawings, symbols – these are used like object symbols to represent words in a visual way
Communication boards and displays – these are sets of photos, drawings, symbols or words that are used by an individual for communication – .
Chat books – these are small books (often a photo album) that may contain photos, pictures, symbols, words and messages about a person
Speech generating devices – communication boards or displays on a machine which speak a message when a particular button is pressed
Spelling – using an alphabet board or typing device to spell out words and messages
Combinations of AAC methods
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, such as:
- a noisy place, such as at the football
- a dirty place, such as in the sandpit
We talk for a variety of reasons, for example:
- to joke
- to argue
- to talk about an experience
- to discuss
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!
What’s important about AAC?
Reading with A.A.C.Parental involvement – successful use of AAC involves support and active involvement of those who are in the child’s immediate environment – parents and caregivers are the key to AAC success. (graphic-communication group-child and parent).
Communication partners – there are lots of things that communication partners (those who interact with AAC users) can do which make a real difference to the skills an AAC user develops.
Opportunities to communicate – in order to develop and practise communication skills, the child (particularly in the early stages of using AAC) may need some extra encouragement to use their AAC system.
Vocabulary choices – the words and messages chosen for an AAC system are very important – if they are not useful or motivating to the child or listener, they will not be used.
Ongoing evaluation – an AAC system should be ever-changing, matching the needs of the user as they grow, learn and meet new people – communication needs are always changing, and an AAC system should change to meet (or anticipate) these needs.
Ease of use – for communication to be successful, it needs to happen as easily as possible for the user and as quickly as possible for the listener – many factors will need to be considered to achieve this goal.
Finding the best AAC for you or your child
When deciding on the best AAC device for a child or adult, it may be useful to consider the following:
Giving a person an AAC communication system does not mean they will show an interest in using it – AAC systems are tools, they do not provide the interest or ability to communicate.
Prescription of a voice output communication device requires careful consideration and a variety of information and input from others.
Visit the Washington University AAC ‘Understanding AAC Features’ page for more information.
Remember that an AAC system should not be recommended without looking at the whole communication picture – the best result is usually obtained when the speech pathologist co-ordinates all the steps involved – the speech pathologist can also work out the most suitable type of AAC system , together with the child, their family and other therapists – these people can also be supported by therapists from the Assistive Technology Service team if needed.
There are a number of different approaches and methods that may be used in AAC training. These include immersion and modelling.
Immersion is 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.
Modelling is demonstrating or showing how to do something by example.
Teaching, training and practise are very important in determining the success of AAC use.
Read our blog post on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Training for more information or if you would like free advice, speak to someone in our friendly team on 1300 NOVITA (1300 668 482) or visit our Contact Us page for more ways to get in touch.
Other helpful links
Related external links
An easy to understand and practical website that provides a wide range of information and guidance to families, teachers, speech/language pathologists and others involved with a child with special communication needs.
AACIntervention (United States of America)
This site developed by Caroline Musselwhite and Julie Maro, provides access to augmentative and alternative communication intervention products & presentations.
Provides information about severe communication impairment for communication aid users, advocates, therapists, teachers, and rehabilitation engineers. The site also provides access to a list serve on Augmentative and Alternative Communication topics.
Augmentative Communication News (United States of America)
This site, originating in California, provides information about a newsletter, edited by Sarah Blackstone, dedicated to providing a wide range of articles about the field of augmentative communication.
The Centre serves organisations and programs that work with families of children and youth with disabilities. It offers parents, educators and friends a range of information and services on the subject of assistive technology.
This international body is committed to providing the latest world-wide information about Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
Provides access to the latest assistive technology solutions for people of any age with disability within Australia.
This page of the site provides a glossary of Augmentative and Alternative Communication vocabulary and information about Augmentative and Alternative Communication products.