AAC Helps Individuals with Communication Challenges Have a Voice

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused; ASD and DD, Child-focused

[This column was published in the Randolph Herald.]

Everyone deserves a voice, whether it is through spoken words or alternative methods. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, also known as AAC, serves as that voice for many people who do not use verbal speech as their primary mode of communication.

Think about walking up to the counter at your favorite coffee shop and not being able to use spoken words to tell the barista your order. What would you do? You might take out your phone and show him or her a picture, or write it down on a piece of paper. You might even point to the item on the menu. All of these options are considered AAC, and they are strategies that people with complex communication needs use every day.

AAC is an umbrella term that describes any method that supplements or replaces verbal speech for someone who has impairments producing or understanding spoken and/or written language. There are many different types of AAC strategies, and they are organized into four main categories: no-tech, low-tech, mid-tech, and high-tech strategies. 

No-tech strategies are those skills that require no additional materials. They include pointing, gestures, and eye gaze.

Low-tech strategies use symbols such as core vocabulary boards, choice boards, pictures, or symbols in communication books.

Mid-tech AAC includes voice output buttons, commonly called “switches,” that have voice messages pre-recorded which are activated by hitting a button. 

High-tech AAC includes dynamic display devices, such as iPads, with communication applications (TouchChat, Proloquo2go). There are also dedicated communication devices, such as NovaChat and Dynavox systems.

As Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), part of our job is to assess the need for and determine which modes of communication best suit individuals. Because no two people are the same, a mode of communication needs to be specifically chosen for each person based on his or her current needs and abilities. 

It is important to remember that one specific AAC strategy is not a lifelong choice for a person. AAC modalities may change over time, or the needs of the individual using AAC may change. Either way, it’s important to remember that AAC is communication, and having a way to communicate is a fundamental human right.

Rachel Flaherty, M.S. CCC-CLP
Marja Ruderman, M.S. CCC-SLP
Brittany Belanger, M.S. Ed CCC-SLP

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit