What is AAC?

What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication; (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write. (ASHA Website – www.asha.org).

Many of our students with severe speech or language problems rely on AAC to supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional. There are many different AAC systems available to help our students increase their communication skills. AAC users should not stop oral speech if they are able to do so but use the AAC aids/devices to enhance his/her communication abilities. AAC systems should be personalized to meet the needs of the student.

Types of AAC Systems

There are different types of AAC systems  — unaided and aided systems.

Unaided communication systems – rely on the person’s body to convey messages. It does not require any special materials or equipment. Examples include gestures, body language, and/or sign language. (ASHA Website – www.asha.org).

Aided communication systems – require the use of tools or equipment in addition to the person’s body. Aided communication methods can range from paper and pencil to communication books or boards to devices that produce voice output (speech generating devices or SGD’s) and/or written output. Electronic communication aids allow the user to use picture symbols, letters, and/or words and phrases to create messages. Aided communication systems can range from low-tech to high-tech devices. (ASHA Website – www.asha.org).


Aided Communication Systems — Low-Tech & High-Tech


Low Tech Aids

Low-Tech communication aids are defined as those that do not need batteries, electricity, or electronics.  These include simple communication boards or books in which the student selects letters, words, phrases, pictures, and/or symbols to communicate a message. A student with limited physical abilities may use eye gaze, head/mouth stick, light pointer, or a body part to indicate the desired picture on the communication board/book.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) books and Core Boards would both be considered low tech communication aids. A student exchanges a picture or points to pictures to communicate with others.


High-Tech Aids

High-Tech AAC aids allow for the storage and retrieval of electronic messages with most systems allowing the user to communicate using speech output. These devices can be referred to as speech generating devices (SGD) or voice output communication aids (VOCA).  High-tech AAC systems can be static or dynamic in form.

Static Communication devices have symbols in a fixed position on paper overlays which are changed manually.  An example of a static device would be a GO Talk device. The student pushes the button on the device and the word is produced for the student. The overlays can be changed on these devices.


Dynamic Communication devices require the student to navigate the device to find the vocabulary or message he/she wants to convey. High-tech devices vary in the amount of information they can store; as well as, their size, weight, and mobility.  Examples of high-tech AAC devices include the Nova Chat, DynaVox, or iPad with a communication program on it. The student navigates the device to formulate a message to the communication partner.



This post is part of the Cooking Up Communication Summer Series!

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