Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) 101

AAC 101

Welcome to a crash course in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).


1) What is AAC?

AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) is, simply put, anything that aids and/or replaces your speech to communicate.

ASHA (the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) says that “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.”

Meaning that ALL OF THESE are AAC!

AAC examples


The way I see it, AAC is the ability to get your point across. Communicate wherever, with whomever, whenever you want.


2) What are some types of AAC?

AAC tools and strategies can be described in several different ways, but I like to break it up by mode of communication. The first step – is it aided or unaided?

Unaided AAC (a.k.a. “No tech”) is anything that doesn’t require an outside tool of some kind. This includes manual signs (i.e., American Sign Language, Manually Coded English), facial expressions, gestures, and vocal inflection

Unaided AAC examples

Aided AAC involves something outside of the person that helps him/her communicate.

Aided, “Low Tech” AAC includes 2-D and 3-D objects, photos, and symbols that help individuals communicate. An easy way to think about it – extraneous things that help us communicate that don’t need batteries.

low tech AAC examples

Aided “Mid Tech” AAC includes switches, step-by-steps, and BIGMack switches (one hit wonders). They have some form of voice output device, but are less dynamic than a complex device. For example, these switches use 1-3 pre-programmed phrases. In order to change these messages, you have to program over the original messages.

Mid-Tech AAC examples

Aided “High Tech” AAC are devices with batteries (usually rechargeable) that allow the user to store messages and many of which have speech output. This is often recognized as iPad apps, eye-gaze devices, and other dedicated devices.

High-tech AAC examples

 3) What about speech?

Research shows that AAC DOES NOT IMPEDE SPEECH DEVELOPMENT! I’ll talk more about this later, but the easiest way to think about this: people will communicate in whatever way is fastest. Natural speech is by far faster than using AAC. If someone can talk, they will!


Take Home Message:

AAC is awesome. It’s a great method of communication for those that want and need it. Stick around, and we’ll be talking about it A LOT.



Amanda ML Samperi