What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

Augmentative and alternative communication, also known as AAC, is a term that is used to describe various methods of communication that can help people who are unable to use verbal speech to communicate. AAC can benefit a wide range of individuals, from a beginning communicator to a more sophisticated communicator who generates his own messages.

AAC includes both unaided and aided systems. Unaided systems, like signing and gestures, do not require special materials or equipment. Aided systems use picture charts, books and special computers. AAC methods vary and may be personalized to meet each individual’s needs. Many forms of AAC include an assistive technology component which range from high- to low-tech strategies.

Who Benefits From AAC?

Any person with a disability that makes it difficult for them to communicate may benefit from AAC. Some people need AAC only for a short time; others may use it throughout their lives. AAC allows an individual to express their needs and wants, and more fully participate in decisions that affect their lives.

AAC also benefits family members and other significant others, providing a way for them to more fully communicate with their loved ones. Although you don't need special skills to understand an individual who is using AAC, it is important to remember to give the augmented communicator ample time to communicate.

How do I know if an individual is a good candidate for AAC?

Many different AAC methods are used by people of all ages with various physical or learning difficulties. Some individuals need AAC because of a condition that has been present since birth, such as cerebral palsy, autism or a learning disability. Other people don’t need AAC until they are older and lose their ability to communicate as the result of a stroke, brain injury or an adult degenerative disease such as ALS.

It is important to work with a professional speech language pathologist (SLP) or assistive technology (AT) professional who can help the support team evaluate the individual and identify the most appropriate AAC solution. In general, the following factors need to be considered:

  1. What are the individual's cognitive abilities?
  2. What are the individual's physical abilities?
  3. What is the most important vocabulary relevant to the individual?
  4. Is the individual motivated and interested in using AAC?
  5. Always enlist the expert help of a speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, or other AT professional.

Where Do I Begin?

Contact a PRC Regional Consultant. Find your PRC Regional Consultant here.