What is AAC?

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can include any strategy used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. Examples of common AAC strategies might include sign language, picture communication boards and voice output communication devices. Many AAC strategies use picture symbols, letters, words and phrases to represent the messages needed to talk about objects, people and places. Individuals with communication challenges use AAC to supplement their existing speech or replace speech that is not functional.

AAC can be used in any environment where communication difficult. AAC not only helps children with autism communicate their messages, but also gives them visual information that can increase their understanding of the situation. For example, showing a child a communication page with clothing items might help them better understand the process of getting dressed and allow them to activity participate in the activity.

Who can use AAC?

Any child who is nonverbal or who has limited speech can benefit from the use of AAC. Children who do not have the ability to communicate can potentially fall behind in developing their receptive and expressive language skills. AAC is often considered when children do not develop speech in the traditional way or experience significant delay in their communication development. With AAC, children with autism can:

  • Develop expressive and receptive language skills.
  • Use appropriate means and find more opportunities to communicate.
  • Actively engage in the communication process.
  • Communicate more complex concepts than their existing skills would allow.

It is never too early or too late to implement AAC. Communication devices can give a voice to children with autism and provide them with the tools they need to communicate with the world around them. To determine if your child might be a candidate for AAC intervention, complete the Communication Success Screening form.

Why Should AAC be Used to Help Children with Autism?

We know that children with autism often possess many strengths that allow them to be successful users of symbol and text-based communication systems.

Children with autism... DynaVox Communication (AAC) Devices can…
Understand better when they see something versus just hearing it. Clarify concepts in a concrete and visual way when there are difficulties with auditory comprehension.
Think in a visual way and recall visual images and memories easily. Present language in a consistent and visual manner.
Can understand and benefit from concrete and visual information regarding daily events. Provide tools such as visual schedules and calendars to help individuals with autism organize their lives and understand sequence and time.
Understand environment or activity specific language. Manage a large amount of environment and activity specific language to support communication in the home, school and community.

The primary goal of using AAC strategies is to enhance communication, not to replace or inhibit the existing communication skills of the child. Most AAC users continue to use their existing communication skills (e.g. verbalizations, facial expressions, gestures, etc.) in addition to an AAC system. AAC intervention strives to determine the communication, behavioral and social needs of the child, identify the child's strengths and match those strengths to possible AAC solutions.

While there are many choices available regarding AAC systems, it is important to consider all of the things that make an AAC system appropriate for a child with autism.

An AAC system should:

  • Increase participation in the classroom, community and home.
  • Support academic performance and address IEP and personal goals.
  • Support timely and interactive communication.
  • Provide meaningful messages to the communication partner (e.g., sibling, teacher, parent, etc.).
  • Support language and literacy learning through a robust and structured language system.
  • Encourage successful day-to-day interaction with others.
  • Be appropriate for the child's age and communication ability level.
  • Provide positive behavioral supports.

User Case: Sam

SamSam is 4 years old and has a diagnosis of autism. He loves airplanes, books and spends a lot of time playing outside. Sam used to grab his mother's hand and pull her to the kitchen when he wanted a snack. He would sometimes cry and demonstrate self-abusive behaviors when he was unable to communicate his choice. Since there were so many choices, Sam's mother would begin naming all of the items, one at a time and wait for Sam to respond. This process was quite frustrating for both Sam and his mother and would often result in a complete meltdown. Now, Sam uses his Maestro to quickly choose his favorite snack, share his thoughts and talk about the day's events with his mom.

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Implementation Toolkit

The Implementation Toolkit is a collection of video and print-based resources created to help you facilitate successful interaction using AAC.

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