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What Is AAC and How My Child Can Benefit from It

Published December 30th, 2022 by Jacqueline Chin

Blog author: Miriam Fruchter, MA, CCC-SLP


AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication and includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas (Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute).

Being that the month of October was AAC Awareness Month, I felt it was appropriate to touch on this topic before we ended the current calendar year.


How Do We Communicate?

Many children will develop language starting with facial expressions, gestures (pointing) and signs and then begin to develop language moving from sounds to syllables, words, phrases, and soon enough sentences and conversations. This is how the typical child will develop. However, what happens when a child’s speech is not developing this way? They are still looking and trying to communicate but don’t have a verbal means to do so. These children, who are considered non-verbal communicators, should still be given a “voice” and a way to communicate. As Temple Grandin put it: “I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk. I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not get the words out, so I would just scream.”


Take a minute to think about how you communicate with others during your day.


Nowadays, we find ourselves spending less time in verbal conversations with others and more time sending emails, texts, video messaging, using phone technology, web chats and even handwritten notes. Who needs to speak to a customer service representative when you can click on the chat button and request a price adjustment that way?


AAC Is Just Another Form of Communication

When it comes to our children, then why are we so hesitant to introduce a form of AAC when there is a need? Some children struggle to form sounds and words due to muscle weakness or lack of motor control (dysarthria), others due to motor planning difficulties (apraxia) and yet others related to a diagnosis of autism, down syndrome, hearing loss, or a brain injury. These children may develop verbal communication a bit later than the norm or it may never develop in certain children. However, in the meantime, there are numerous forms of AAC that a child can benefit from.

Two Categories in AAC

Gestures Writing
Facial expressions Communication Boards (with symbols)
Signs/ Sign Language (ASL) Voice output devices (low and hi tech)

More info:


Scenario 1

Take a moment to picture the nonverbal preschool child having a tantrum every day during lunch. The teacher has no clue what he wants, however he clearly has a food preference or wants to have a say in what he’s going to eat. Present this same child with a food choice board, in which he can now point to a symbol or real-life photo of something he would like to eat. The tantrum diminishes and he can now learn to request via pointing or handing over a picture to someone to form this request.

Scenario 2

Now picture another child who has been struggling forming various sounds and imitating or producing words on his own. He clearly wants to make choices and communicate. You may want to argue that if you present this child with a voice output device, he will never learn to “talk”. However, quite the opposite tends to be true. This child will have more opportunities to hear the word(s) that they want to say and may even be more motivated to try to approximate their target word(s) when using a speech generating device or talker.


Now That You Are Considering a Form of AAC What to Keep in Mind and Where to Begin

  • Research shows that AAC can help people of all ages (even those younger than age 3).
  • Research also shows that AAC can actually assist with language development and help those children who are having difficulty “talking”.
  • Start by speaking with an SLP, a speech-language pathologist who has experience with both unaided and aided modes of communication.
  • A trained SLP will be the one to conduct a comprehensive AAC assessment and will take into account the individual needs of your child. This assessment will help determine the right AAC system to use.
  • The individual needs of a child can include an augmentative means of communication to assist with the development of natural speech.
  • It also includes those children who require an alternative means of communication instead of verbal speech, writing, or expressive language.
  • An AAC device can be temporary or more permanent based on individual needs.
  • An AAC device may also be used as a means of communication which facilitates more appropriate behaviors.
  • An SLP may work with other professionals like occupational therapists and physical therapists if your child has physical skills that may impact how he/she will access their AAC system.
  • A trained SLP is also the one to teach you how to use the right AAC system to help your child communicate.
  • Trials of specific devices will often take place until a certain device is determined to be most effective for your child.


Keep in Mind..

Don’t say: “My child is going to be dependent on a device and never speak.”

Do say: “AAC supports TOTAL language and allows them to communicate their thoughts – and that’s what I want for my child!” (Rachel Madel, Speech Therapy Inc.)



Photo by Pexels @cottonbro studio

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