The What, Who and Why of AAC: AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication)
What is AAC?
AAC stands for Alternative and Augmentative Communication, which is a fancy way of referring to something that helps someone communicate using a means other than spoken words. AAC systems can support the person’s verbal communication or completely replace it, this depends on their verbal skills, needs and preferences.
AAC can include both aided and unaided communication. Unaided AAC just refers to anything that a person can do with their body and when unaided by props. Unaided AAC will include things that everyone uses to communicate such as gestures and facial expression, as well as taught modes of communication such as:
- Australian Sign Language (example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4usSBdLrTk)
- Key Word Sign (example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAHqgumCXSo)
Aided AAC are modes of communication supported by objects. These objects can be no tech, low tech or high tech. No tech options include
- PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) involves a child giving their carers/the people around them small picture cards to communicate. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M_PecoorLE
Low tech options include:
- Buttons and switches allow people to communicate basic wants and needs. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsTcd0j8pwA
- Talking photo albums that increase the person’s ability to engage socially. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_VzFM57rd0
High tech options include:
- Words for Life is a communication system that allows complex sentences and stories to be constructed. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFWTTH63K7w
Who is appropriate for AAC?
AAC is appropriate for any person who finds verbal communication alone difficult to understand of use. AAC use can be used on a temporary basis or permanently depending on the person’s needs. AAC can be used by a wide array of people including people with:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- hearing impairment
- unclear speech
- developmental delay
- intellectual impairment
Why is AAC used?
AAC is used to help people who find it challenging to use and/or understand verbal communication alone. It helps them express their wants and needs and understand those around them. AAC is not an all or nothing option. A combination of verbal communication and AAC, and different AAC can be used to encourage a person to reach their potential. AAC does not impair the person’s spoken words. Research has shown that AAC can improve spoken communication (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006; Sedey, Rosin, & Miller, 1991; Kasari et al., 2014). AAC can also reduce challenging behaviours caused by frustration with not being able to understand others or express themselves (Carr & Durand, 1985; Drager, Light, & McNaughton, 2010; Mirenda, 1997; Robinson & Owens, 1995).