Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Information taken from American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and Communication Matters


Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to all forms of “communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas.  We all use AAC when we use facial expressions or gestures (i.e., waving good-bye), use symbols or pictures, or write.”  However, some people require AAC to communicate the majority of the time.  Sometimes a child may have a severe delay or disorder that impedes his / her ability to traditionally communicate.  A speech-language pathologist may then recommend using AAC. 


Studies have shown that AAC can help improve communication skills in children who have severe delays or disorders.  This may include but is not limited to late talking, autism, childhood apraxia of speech, down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, or any other child who is unable to speak his / her thoughts.  There are no prerequisites for AAC devices and the sooner a child is introduced to AAC, the more likely they will improve on language and communication.  If your child has difficulty verbalizing, is unable to express his / her wants and needs, or has frustration due to inability to communicate an AAC evaluation by a licensed speech-language pathologist is recommended.  During the evaluation, the speech therapist will help you determine if your child would benefit from AAC as well as give recommendations for the best AAC system to use.  A speech therapist will then work with you and your family to help you understand and utilize the system. 


  • No Tech: This is sometimes referred to as unaided communication.  No additional equipment is needed when using this type of AAC.  Examples of this include gestures (i.e., pointing, waving, etc), sign language, body language, and facial expressions.
  • Low-Tech Communication Systems: This is sometimes referred to as aided communication because additional equipment is required.  Low-tech AAC does not include devices that have batteries.  Examples of this type of AAC include drawing or writing with pen and paper, using Alphabet or letter boards, using pictures or symbols, or communication charts.  Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) falls in this category.    
  • High-Tech Communication Systems: This can also be referred to as aided communication because additional equipment is needed.  High-tech AAC devices have batteries and most of them speak for the user.  Some devices have simple buttons that speak when touched while others are more complex systems.  Some high-tech systems utilize everyday devices by downloading programs on phones, laptops, and tablets.  Other systems require equipment that is specially designed.      


At Key Therapies we want children to use the easiest means possible to communicate, whether this means through verbalizations or through AAC.  If a child is able to verbalize, we will continue to focus on his / her speech.  Children can work on AAC while still working on developing speech sounds.  We will use AAC systems to enhance a child’s communication when necessary.  Teaching a child to use an AAC system takes time and patience from his / her family and from the speech-language pathologist.   We will teach your child how to activate and utilize the device to communicate with others.

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