• Dr. Amelie Lewis

What is AAC?

Updated: Mar 12

AAC = Augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC, is a term that's used to describe various methods of communication that can help people who are unable to use verbal speech to communicate. AAC is designed for Autism, Down Syndrome, ALS, apraxia, stroke, etc.

Communication is one of the most essential things in the world. Every creature communicates somehow, but articulated communication distinguishes humankind from an animal. Through communication, it comes to everything. It is the way people interact, establish relationships, learn about the world and others, even about themselves and make themselves be understood. It has different types and forms such as verbal (oral and written), nonverbal (through appearance, body language, gestures, images) and para verbal (the inflection, pitch, pacing, tone of the speech).

It is clear that everyone has questions, doubts, and curiosities and on the other hand, also something to say, to let others know about. It must be easy for completely developed people to express themselves verbally anytime and on any occasion, but what about people who find it harder or even impossible to speak?

AAC is the answer

AAC comes to help a special category of people, whereof we will refer after clarifying the term. AAC means Augmentative and Alternative Communication. But what does it mean?

Augmentative communication represents the addition of different elements to the speech to support it and help the information be transmitted clearly and in a more efficient manner.

Alternative communication is a way of expressing thoughts, ideas and feelings, desires and needs without actually using speech.

The two terms are combined to convey the system of communication methods used to supplement or even substitute natural speech or writing for those who are unable to use it efficiently.

AAC is defined by The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a mixture of forms of communication including languages as well as a display of text, large-print, tactile communication, plain language, accessible multimedia and accessible information and communication technology.

It has its modern origins in the 1950s and its development has driven it to be characterized by two forms: unaided AAC and aided AAC.

Unaided AAC

Unaided AAC does not require special outside tools or any supplemental materials, because it is based on natural communication such as facial expressions, gestures, body language, informal vocalization. It even implies sign languages.

Aided AAC

Aided AAC is any device, either electronic or non-electronic, that is used to transmit or receive messages. It can range from communication books or boards to speech-generating devices. It is divided into two categories: low-tech aids and high-tech aids. The first one refers to non-electronic devices, represented usually by very simple communication books or boards from each the user selects letters, words, phrases, symbols, objects or images to transmit a message.

The second category includes speech generating devices or voice output communication aid in electronic format. There are usually digitalized, playing recorded words or phrases, or synthesized, using text-to-speech software.

Who is it addressed to?

AAC addresses to anyone who suffers from neuron-motor disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual impairments, developmental verbal dyspraxia, traumatic brain injury, aphasia, locked-in syndrome, strokes, motor neuron disease, dementia and anyone who just need help in transmitting messages without natural speech.

As Universal Declaration of Human Rights in United Nations point out, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”, everyone deserves to be heard and the way something is said do not determine its relevance. In consequence, AAC helps people all over the world through different strategies and methods.

Benefits of AAC

There are a lot of benefits when it comes to using AAC no matter in which manner, but because technology has developed so much in the last years, there are different apps for phones that help people with communication issues manage any situation that might occur so easily because people take their phones everywhere.

The reasons someone should use AAC are as it follows: it not only benefits the user of it meaning the person with communicating problems, but it is also very helpful for the ones interacting with them, in every aspect of life; it has a positive impact on language development and speech skills and competences; it helps individuals integrate in society, creating deep bonds between people such as friendships; it can represent a good and easy platform for specialists and parents to work with children who have communication difficulties; usually high-tech AAC systems are very adaptable and are easy to personalize for each individual’s special needs and preferences and of course, it gives the chance for a more active social life in all fields: family, friendship, professional area; it enhances the quality of life for users both physically and mentally.

Plus, no study has shown any stagnation determined by using AAC methods.

What people without AAC go through

People that do not use AAC may go through tough experiences such as loneliness, social anxiety, inability to express themselves, frustration and negative emotions because for them it is much more difficult to connect with others and communicate properly. They might be misunderstood a lot of times, unfortunately, and children with complex communication needs are denied opportunities to participate in appropriate general education.

Every aspect of the life of individuals who do not use AAC methods might be much more complicated starting from home life, the simple interactions with family members, and continuing with both social and professional fields, in which others tend not to be so patient and understanding as a family should. So it might make people with speech difficulties feel uncomfortable socializing and this can determine them get introverted and isolate. This can only make the situation worse because if individuals are not stimulated to connect with others and try to communicate, they will refuse to do it and not only their skills will not improve, but it will mean an actual regress. Because no one wants such results it is way better to use AAC. There are a lot of options for specific communicating needs for each individual.

How does AAC help?

AAC apps have a variety of options for their users. They can only use symbols, words, expressions or even complex phrases.

Using AAC tools makes a difference especially for children, who are much likely expected to improve their communication skills. Such tools are used in different therapies for kids to practice their language interactively. It is also a great strategy to use to make the conversations evolve a lot quicker than without it.

Also in urgent situations, when individuals encounter communication deficits, AAC apps ease the process of them getting the help they need. They do not have to struggle anymore to tell people taking care of them what is going on or what they need. Especially being an emergency, time is priceless and AAC helps saving it.

Facts and Myths about AAC

Myth: “AAC is only for nonverbal individuals.”

Fact: Actually, it is for anyone who does not have reliable verbal speech as any patient who does not have effective expressive communication.

Myth: “AAC hinders further speech development.”

Fact: Especially for young children, it is the exact opposite. It enhances the development of spoken communication.

Myth: “AAC is the last resort in the speech-language intervention.”

Fact: AAC can play important roles in early communication development.

Fluent AAC

A relevant example of an app, that aids individuals who experience difficulties in speech communication, is Fluent AAC. It has a wide range of pictures that should help anyone with the ability to use natural speech affected. It is easy to use and due to its expressive images, captivating for children.


People spend an impressive amount of their time interacting with others so communication is a huge part of each one’s life. How often did you hear the phrase “communication is the key”? It is not about what you say, but it is about how you say it, so AAC makes it easier for not so lucky people to deliver their messages in the right way, even if they do not use verbal communication.

Augmentative and alternative communication, no matter the age, is an effective rehabilitation approach to people with severe intellectual disabilities and impairments in linguistic expression, helping these patients increase their social participation while enhancing their self-esteem.

Researchers hypothesize that using an AAC device relieves the pressure of having to speak, allowing the individual to focus on communication and that the reduction in psychological stress makes speech production easier and others speculate that the model of spoken output facilitates an increase in speech production.

According to a 1997 U.S. Census Bureau report less than 10% of severely disabled individuals were employed. Despite the various barriers to employment, some AAC users achieve success in education and employment, though often in lower-paying jobs.

Several studies of young adults who had used AAC since childhood report a generally good quality of life, though few lived independently, or were in paid employment. The young adults used multiple modes of communication including aided and unaided AAC approaches.


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