What is AAC For Children?

20 Apr, 2020

AAC is short for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

It is a method of communicating without speech through alternative means, or where speech is used together with another form of communication such as sign language, pictures or a letter board (augmentative).

A speech pathologist can recommend AAC to any person whose daily communication needs are not met through speech or writing. In this article, we will be talking specifically about the paediatric population.

This may include young children who are delayed in their speech development or older children who persistently present with communication difficulties.

AAC for Children

The purpose of AAC is to provide a child with a form of communication to help them express their wants, needs and feelings. It may also positively influence their social skills, self-esteem, school behaviours and improve their quality of life.

Types of AAC systems

There are two types of AAC systems: aided and unaided. Aided communication systems require external support in addition to the user’s body. Examples of aided communication systems include:

  • Real objects
  • Symbols (stop sign to indicate a break)
  • Photos/ pictures
  • Drawings
  • Electronic devices, computer systems, digital applications

Unaided communication systems rely on non-verbal methods to convey messages. Examples of unaided communication systems include:

  • Vocalisations
  • Facial Expression
  • Body movements/ natural gesture
  • Sign Language

AAC can also be sorted into ‘low-tech’ and ‘high-tech.’ High-tech AAC requires a child to use an electronic device like a computer or a tablet/ iPad.

Low-tech would require a child to use something external to them, either non-electronic or a low-level electronic device. Examples of low tech AAC include:

  • Signing
  • Pictures and symbols
  • Picture Exchange Communication Systems
  • Choice boards which display a small number of images at a time

Using AAC with children- Myths and Myth Busters!

Discussing the possibility of implementing AAC for children can be confronting for families. Occasionally, parents and caregivers may be unsure about the benefits of using AAC.

Dispelling myths regarding AAC is needed to ensure that all individuals are receiving the best possible interventions and outcomes.

Listed below are some common myths around AAC. Read on to see them debunked!

Using a communication device will stop my child from talking.

FALSE! The truth is that AAC is linked to an improvement in the development of verbal speech. Language is an incredibly difficult construct to comprehend so any visual reinforcement (AAC) is likely to help us understand it better.

Children must be a certain age or have intact cognition to be able to benefit from AAC.

FALSE. Individuals of all ages can benefit from the use of AAC. Previously it was thought that children should be a certain age due to the incorrect assumption that AAC would limit the verbal development of a child. This assumption is incorrect and has been debunked through research. When considering cognition, AAC has developed over the years to be inclusive of all cognitive abilities. Even children with some of the most severe difficulties can begin using these devices with the support of a speech pathologist. Access to high-tech devices is now incredibly simple and easy to achieve.

AAC is a “last resort” in speech therapy

FALSE. When AAC was first discovered back in the 1960s, it was only used or recommended after other speech tasks had been exhausted. For example, the POSM (Patient Operated Selector Mechanism), a sip-and-puff typewriter controller, prototyped by Reg Maling in 1960, was an early electric communication device. This device was huge, so portability was obviously an issue! These days (and following lots of research), AAC is now recommended for any child that is having difficulty accessing language. Their age and the amount of intervention should not matter as the need to practise language in real-life situations is essential for language and skill development. This is something that AAC can provide when spoken methods are challenging.

AAC takes too long to learn

FALSE. It is important to realise that learning AAC can be like learning a new language. As learning anything, there will be easy days and there will be hard days. We would not expect a child, or an adult for that matter, to learn a new language in a month – the same can be expected for AAC. The cool part about learning AAC is that within a few weeks, with practice, your child will be learning to use core vocabulary that is important for daily interactions.

If you have a child who may benefit from AAC, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing lives of our clients. All our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an assessment. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.


  • Millar, D., Light, J., & Schlosser, R. (2000). The impact of AAC on natural speech development: A meta-analysis. In Proceedings of the 9th biennial conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (pp. 740–741). Washington, DC: ISAAC.
  • Namy, L. L., Campbell, A. L., & Tomasello, M. (2004). Developmental change in the role of iconicity in symbol learning. Journal of Cognition and Development, 5, 37–57.
  • Cress, C. J. (2003). Responding to a common early AAC question: “Will my child talk?” Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 12, 10– 11.
  • Reichle, J., Beukelman, D., & Light, J. (Eds.). (2002). Implementing an augmentative communication system: Exemplary strategies for beginning communicators. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

You may also like…