What is AAC?
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, commonly shortened to AAC, refers to a powerful set of tools and strategies that enable individuals with speech and language challenges to express themselves, communicate effectively, and participate more fully in social interactions. In this guide to AAC, we will explain exactly what it is, who it benefits, how it benefits them, and more.
AAC encompasses all techniques, tools, and strategies used to assist individuals who have difficulty speaking. ASHA simply calls it “all of the ways that someone communicates besides talking.” AAC may be augmentative by supplementing speech. Other times, it may serve as an alternative to spoken language by replacing it entirely. Either way, you can think of AAC systems as assistive technology used to support communication. That “technology” can be as simple as pen and paper, or as advanced as a touchscreen running specialized software.
What is AAC Used For?
AAC is used by people with a variety of conditions and challenges that affect their ability to communicate verbally. It can be helpful for both children and adults. AAC is commonly used by people diagnosed with aphasia or autism, but there are plenty of other diagnoses that lead to AAC use. AAC may also be used by people who have temporarily lost their ability to speak due to reasons such as surgery.
Individuals with speech and language challenges have much to gain by utilizing AAC:
- Enhanced Communication: AAC provides individuals with a means to express themselves, share their thoughts, feelings, and needs, and engage in meaningful conversations.
- Increased Independence: AAC empowers individuals to become more independent communicators, reducing their reliance on others to interpret or convey their messages.
- Social Inclusion: AAC improves social interactions by enabling individuals to actively participate in conversations, interact with peers, and build relationships.
- Academic and Vocational Success: AAC supports learning and educational progress, allowing individuals to access information, participate in classroom activities, and pursue career opportunities.
Different Types of AAC
AAC encompasses a broad spectrum of methods and tools, which can be categorized into two main types: unaided and aided AAC.
- Unaided AAC refers to forms of communication that do not require external tools or equipment. This includes sign language, gestures, facial expressions, and body language.
- Aided AAC involves the use of external tools or devices to support communication. This can range from low-tech options, such as pen and paper, to high-tech solutions like speech-generating devices and apps.
Even among these categories, there are still many types of AAC. For a more thorough examination of the different types of AAC, we suggest this article by Communication Matters.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to AAC because different individuals have varying needs. For instance, Spoken is aimed toward people with greater independence and higher levels of functioning than many other AAC systems (we wrote more about that here). A different system may be more appropriate for people with greater difficulties.
Often, seeking professional assistance can be beneficial so that individuals are able to discover a communication system that aligns with their abilities, preferences, and communication goals. Assessment, training, and ongoing support may be valuable. However, it is important to note that many users are capable of independently discovering AAC solutions and determining which one is most suitable for their needs.
Through a variety of methods, AAC empowers individuals to express themselves, fostering independence and social inclusion. Whether someone uses AAC for autism, aphasia, or something else entirely, it’s a very beneficial tool that shouldn’t be taken for granted. By understanding and recognizing the importance of AAC, we can create a more inclusive and communicatively accessible world for all individuals, regardless of their speech and language abilities.
Spoken is an app that helps people with aphasia, nonverbal autism, and other speech and language disorders.