Has someone suggested that ‘AAC’ could be a good option for you or a loved one?

What is AAC?

AAC stands for ‘Augmentative and Alternative Communication’. AAC means any type of device, system, tool, or strategy for communicating other than oral speech. It can involve different levels of technology. For example, some AAC tools or strategies involve using hands and facial expressions to communicate (eg.  natural gestures, sign language or Key Word Sign); others involve using non-electronic tools (eg. writing, paper-based communication books, communication displays); and others involve using different types of technology to communicate (eg. an iPad with a communication app; a speech-generating device; symbol-based or text-based systems). There are many different AAC tools and systems available and each offers different features to meet the unique needs of many different users.

Who is AAC for?

Many different people use AAC to communicate. AAC may be used to fully replace speech or to supplement speech.  AAC is used by people of all different ages and stages of life when they cannot rely on speech alone to communicate. This could be due to a range of reasons, such as a language delay in early childhood, a developmental disability that impacts communication such as autism or global developmental delay, or a neurological condition that has affected someone’s communication later in life, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Why is AAC helpful?

A good quality AAC system has the power to support both language comprehension and language expression when implemented well. It can give a person access to thousands more words and messages than they are able to say through verbal speech alone. It can empower them to be able to say whatever they want or need to say, to whoever they want to say it to, whenever they want to say it – this is known as communication autonomy, and this is the long term aim of good quality AAC therapy services.

Did you know about the Communication Bill of Rights? This bill is related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is about upholding the rights of people with communication impairments or disabilities. All people have a right to communicate so that they can have choice and control over their own lives – this includes the right to express their wants and needs, make and reject choices, and receive information and make choices about their own health care. It also includes the right to access AAC at all times if it is needed.

On a social level, AAC users report that AAC has helped them to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with family members, friends, and carers; access greater employment opportunities; have greater health outcomes through improved communication with healthcare providers; and resulted in greater independence and more respect from communication partners.

Common questions and concerns around AAC

Many people can feel dismayed or overwhelmed by the idea of introducing AAC, and some common questions often come up when discussing AAC with clients or loved ones. These include concerns around timing – is my loved one too old or too young to benefit from AAC? Will AAC stop them from talking? Is AAC really necessary if the person has some speech? Shouldn’t we start with something more simple like a paper-based system? These concerns are understandable, however the research available on these topics is very reassuring and shows that:

  • There is no age too young or too old to benefit from AAC
  • AAC will not stop someone from talking – actually, it can support speech development (particularly speech generating devices)
  • AAC can be beneficial for users who do have some speech
  • Different AAC tools & systems offer different benefits and features – you don’t need to start with something paper-based and ‘move up’ to something high tech

How can a speech pathologist help with AAC?

I’ve often felt ‘speech’ pathologist is a bit of a misnomer for our profession – really, we are communication specialists who support people to improve a whole range of different communication skills – not just speech sounds and articulation!

A speech pathologist can help work out if AAC may be a good option for you or your loved one, and trial different options with them to find out what will be the best fit for their unique needs and strengths. They can also help to train family members, educators, or support staff in how to best use the AAC system with the individual. If you or your loved one already have a great AAC system in place, a speech pathologist can help by assessing your current skills in using the system and ways to further improve on this.

Dee Wardrop Speech Pathology has a number of speech pathologists with a special interest and experience in AAC – get in touch with our reception team to find out more about our services by emailing reception@deewardrop.com.au or phoning 03 8376 6399.

You can find more information about AAC here:

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