AAC 101

What is Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is identified as any form of communication other than spoken/oral language used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas.

  • Two young girls signing candy.
    Sign Language

Review the range of AAC technologies by reading the information, viewing the presentation, or downloading the handout view here.

  • AAC includes a range of communication strategies and supports.
    • AAC can be no-tech to high-tech devices. It serves to minimize or compensate for communication difficulties.
    • These approaches can help individuals who have functional communication impairments, or complex communication needs.
    • AAC includes all communication acts that supplement (augment) or replace (alternate) spoken communication.
    • It includes “Anything that helps children [or adults] to communicate when traditional strategies are not sufficient to accomplish a communication goal.” ~Cynthia Cress, 2000
  • AAC isn’t Either/Or
    • A variety of strategies and tools can be used at one time.
      • Just because a person uses an AAC device doesn’t mean she can’t also use speech, gestures, or other forms of communication. She doesn’t have to pick one or the other – she can use ALL.
    • One device/strategy may not (and doesn’t have to) meet all needs.
      • Communication needs change across time, partners, and environment. Someone could be successful using verbal speech with his family, but need more help (like a low-tech communication board) to talk to new people at a restaurant.
  • AAC use can be Temporary or Long Term
    • Temporary AAC supports help when a condition prevents a person from communicating verbally.
      • For example, patients in the hospital may use an alphabet spelling board to communicate when they have a breathing tube preventing them from speaking.
      • Children may use AAC while they are working to develop or improve their spoken speech. Later, they may not need these same supports.
    • Long Term AAC can help people who have chronic or ongoing conditions.
      • AAC approaches can be used across the lifespan, but the specific strategy or device will probably change across time.
    • AAC does NOT prevent individuals from developing or using spoken speech. Instead, research shows that AAC provides an easier, more functional means of communication for individuals with complex communication needs.
  • AAC can be Expressive or Receptive
    • Techniques can be used to support a person’s expression and/or his understanding of communication.
    • A communication partner can add gestures, point to objects, or use pictures to help the person understand the message. This is still considered AAC.
  • AAC is dynamic
    • Communication is a life-long process. Communication and AAC are constantly evolving.
    • A person’s communication needs will change across time. So does technology, our understanding of what works, and the person’s experiences.
    • Just because a person “tried AAC” in the past, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take another look. There may be new ideas, attitudes, or devices that can help now

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