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Augmented or Alternative Communication (AAC)


   Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools can be used by individuals who are non-speaking or unable to express themselves effectively through spoken language. They have been shown to improve social skills and communication in individuals with a variety of disorders, including most commonly Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities (Flores et al., 2012). There are many high- and low-tech AAC tools available. When thinking about the use of AAC and what type of AAC tool is appropriate, a Speech-Language Pathologist, the student, parents or family members, and teachers should be part of the decision process.


Beukelman and Mirenda (2005) have provided a good assessment process (Communication Needs Model) to help guide the decision making.

  1. Assessment of a student’s current communication patterns

  2. Assessment of a student’s need across daily routines

  3. Identification of access barriers within the natural environment

  4. Determination of future communication needs in these environments

  5. Selection and design of an augmentative communication system

  6. Evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness of the augmentative communication system (ongoing)

Research has shown that AAC can be effective for non-verbal individuals, but that extensive training is often required (Choi, O’Reilly, Sigafoos, & Lancioni, 2010). According to one survey of Speech-Language Pathologists, AAC is most often recommended to individuals who have passive communication styles (Finke & Quinn, 2012). The authors suggested that training should include a focus on moving these individuals toward a more active communication style (including commenting and requesting).

Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description, this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable. Note that not every AAC device or technique has been empirically validated, but the research does show that in general AAC is effective for individuals who struggle with oral language production.


  • AAC tools can be loaded onto iPads in order to make moving from one activity to another easy for both students and teachers (Flores et al., 2012).

  • Can be used regardless of the age of the individual (Trembath, Iacono, Lyon, West, & Johnson, 2014).

  • AAC tools can allow individuals who are non-verbal to develop social and communication skills (Flores et al., 2012).


  • Extensive training is required (Choi et al., 2010)

To Consider

  • When thinking about the use of AAC, a Speech-Language Pathologist, the student, parents or family members, and teachers should be part of the decision process.

  • Listed below are high-tech tools. Speech-Language Pathologists can recommend low-tech tools if they are appropriate for the individual.

  • Children who use AAC often do not have the range of vocabulary words needed available to them within their AAC tool. A balance of breadth and simplicity needs to be considered when selecting the appropriate vocabulary and phrases within an AAC tool (Finke & Quinn, 2012).

Special Consideration: Workflow

OS Compatibility
Internet Reliance
Optimized Use

Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed. 

$ - Under $5

$$ - Between $6 and $50

$$$ - Between $51 and $250

$$$$ - Over $250



Beukelman, D., & Mirenda, P. (2005). Augmentative and alternative communication: Management of severe communication impairments (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Brookes.


Choi, H., O’Reilly, M., Sigafoos, J., & Lancioni, G. (2010). Teaching requesting and rejecting sequences to four children with developmental disabilities using augmentative and alternative communication. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 31, 560–567.


Finke, E. H., & Quinn, E. (2012). Perceptions of communication style and influences on intervention

practices for young children with AAC needs. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 28, 117–126.


Flores, M., et al. (2012). A comparison of communication using the apple iPad and a picture-based system. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 28, 74–84.

Written by Bronwyn Lamond, Last Revision May 2018

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