Using other methods of communicating – AAC information

specialist woman helping young child communicate with cards

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) is a range of strategies and tools which help people who find it difficult to speak. Its purpose is to support a person to be able to communicate as effectively as possible in as many situations as possible.

The term AAC encompasses a variety of techniques which either replace (alternative) or support (augment) speech. There are many reasons why a person may find it difficult to speak; they may have a developmental disorder which has affected the development of speech or they may have an acquired disorder that has affected their ability to speak.

Why do we need AAC?

If a person is unable to rely on their verbal speech alone, they are unable to communicate with people around them to express their wants, needs, feelings and opinions. This can be extremely frustrating for both the person and the people around them. Communication is a fundamental human right.

What are the different types of AAC?

Low tech AAC are tools which require no ‘tech’. They may be natural methods such as facial expressions, eye contact, gestures as well as signing, pointing to or using objects. There are also paper-based tools such as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), communication boards, alphabet boards, communication books and E-tran frame.

High tech AAC is also known as Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA) and there are many different types of these:

  • Single message VOCA – a basic device that speaks a recorded message when pressed.
  • Message sequencer VOCA – speaks a series of recorded messages.
  • Overlay VOCA – a device which uses paper-based overlays over the keys to show which one says which message. The child can then press the picture or symbol and the device will speak the recorded word or message.
  • Dynamic screen VOCA – this is a more complex device which displays symbols and letters on a screen and can store multiple pages. The child navigates between pages to select the desired word:

Will AAC stop my child speaking?

Research and clinical experience shows that AAC has positive effects on speech and language development and does not stop a person from speaking. People with limited speech should be supported to express themselves successfully by whatever means are available to them. We should value and respect all their ways to communicate.

Is my child able to use AAC?

There are no prerequisite skills or age requirements to start using AAC. An AAC system is based on what a child can see and touch rather than their cognitive skills, understanding of language or what we think the child can or can’t do.

Top tips when using AAC

  • Model, model, model! The best way to encourage a child to use their AAC system is for the people around the child to use it when they speak to them. Point to words or symbols on the system as you talk, model regularly throughout the day in lots of different situations and settings. We cannot expect a child to start using a system if they have not been shown how to use it. This is called ‘Aided Language Input’.
  • There is more to communication than requesting. It is common for a child’s AAC system to be used for requesting eg asking for something they want such as food or toys. Although requesting is an important part of communicating, there are so many more reasons that we communicate. We communicate to greet, ask questions, answer questions, share our news, tell a joke, comment on our surroundings, express our likes and dislikes etc. It is important not to limit the AAC system to making requests alone. It can be used for the full range of communication functions.
  • Don’t give up! A typically developing child will hear 4000-6000 words per day and would need to hear a word approximately 500 times before they would be able to say it. Infants are immersed in language for a year before we expect them to use a first word. We can often put unrealistic expectations on AAC users for how quickly they will be able to start using it. As with any new system, it takes time and practice so be persistent, set realistic goal and celebrate success.

More information-the following websites provide further information about AAC:

Communication Matters –
Assistive Ware –
PrAACtical AAC –
ACE Centre –

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