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Augmentative & Alternative Communication: What is AAC?

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Augmentative & Alternative Communication: What is AAC?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC refers to the plethora of alternative methods people can utilize to communicate, other than actually speaking. ACC is used for both verbal and non verbal individuals alike. ACC strategies, tools, and devices are utilized to assist people who have difficulty expressing themselves in more traditional ways. For example, individuals who have difficulty using longer sentences, non-verbal individuals, and those who face language barriers can all benefit by using ACC.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is broken down into three basic groups:

  1. No-tech includes methods that don’t require anything other than your body such as, using facial expressions, body language, gestures, signs (such as American Sign Language), or finger spelling.

  2. Low-tech methods require simple tools, such as pointing to pictures, words and objects, spelling and drawing. Some low tech AAC tools include communication books that contain many words and pictures and can help people make sentences.

  3. High-tech involves electronics, such as AAC apps on mobile devices or computerized devices such as tablets. These have software that speak words and sentences and are called “speech generating devices”. *There are many different types of software and different ways for people to access them. Some technologies allow a person to touch a button to make the device speak, while others allow a person to use eye gaze to activate the word.

Who can use AAC? Anyone with difficulty talking will benefit from using AAC. It can help people needing assistance talking for a short time, such as following a surgery, illness, or young children who are late to talk. ACC can assist those who have had their ability to communicate impeded as a result of medical circumstances, such as following a stroke, brain injury, or degenerative disease. AAC is incredibly beneficial for people born with communication difficulties, such as those with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, or Down syndrome. Will AAC stop my child from learning to talk? Sometimes people wonder if using AAC will stop or slow down talking, especially in younger children. However, this is a gross misconception that unfortunately often prevents parents from utilizing ACC to assist their child’s speech development. There is growing medical evidence that AAC facilitates the advancement of useful speech and social skills.

What are the most common AAC tools? There are hundreds of various AAC tools, resources, strategies and technologies. The following are examples of a high tech, and low tech mechanism from within the ACC toolbox, which are used to tackle difficulties with communication.

  • Picture Exchange communication This is a low tech AAC tool, also known as “PECS”. This system teaches a person to exchange the picture of an item for the actual item. For non-verbal communicators, it allows them to learn how to initiate communication, to make a request for something they want or need and to reduce frustration. Pictures are stored in a communication book where the communicator can find the pictures to give to their communication partner. There are 6 phases of PECS, starting at exchanging just one picture for an item, all the way to making longer sentences that include adjectives and verbs, making comments and answering questions.

  • Proloquo2Go This is a high tech AAC tool. It is an application that works on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, and generates speech when the communicator presses the picture of the words they want to say. Communicators can also spell out words and sentences. Icons or pictures of the words are organized into different categories on the home page, such as action words, describing words, social greetings, etc. Users can easily add vocabulary to their device by taking pictures and labelling them or selecting images from the device or from the internet.

Who can help? We can! Communicating without speech is very difficult and often frustrating for both the speaker and the listener. A speech and language pathologist can recommend specific AAC tools and strategies to help an individual communicate. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools and systems have proven very successful in assisting speaking impaired individuals improve their communication and help get their message across!

References ASHA. Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Retrieved from

AssistiveWare. What is AAC? Retrieved from


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