Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is an umbrella term to describe any communication device, strategy, or system that supports or replaces natural spoken speech. Augmentative means to support or supplement, adding extra to speech like a picture, writing, or gestures. Alternative means to use instead of speech. This refers to things a person may use when others do not understand them, and they need another way to communicate.

If we think about it, we ALL use forms of AAC every day; we may not realize how much we communicate without speaking. Whether giving a thumbs up to a friend from across the room or pointing a picture on the menu to signal to a waiter we want that delicious looking meal we are uncertain how to pronounce, AAC is a common tool to supplement communication.

AAC is often broken into two groups, unaided and aided AAC. Unaided AAC means that they do not require any physical aids or tools. Some types of unaided AAC include facial expressions, gestures, body language, pointing, and sign language.

Here, Carina – who has Down syndrome and uses sign language to communicate – demonstrates basic signs for people with Down syndrome.

Aided AAC refers to systems or strategies that use external tools or materials. Some low-tech types of aided AAC include writing and drawing with a pen and paper, picture symbol boards, communication boards, alphabet charts, and communication books. High tech aided AAC utilizes technology like tablets or speech-generating devices to support communication.

People with Down syndrome often have difficulty with multiple elements of spoken language. Physical and cognitive differences mean that speech and language development are usually delayed. Most people with Down syndrome will benefit from some form of AAC at some point in their lives to supplement their communication.

Some people use AAC because they have difficulty making the movements needed for speech. Other people use it to support their memory and thinking for communicating their ideas. In different situations, people use it to add clarity to what they say with their voice. AAC can also help students make longer, more complex sentences in situations when they experience anxiety and can’t rely on their voices to communicate effectively.

Many people use a combination of different types of AAC. For example, a student may use a choice board to tell their parent what they want for dinner and sign language to indicate they want more of their favorite food. When a person uses many modes to communicate, this is called total communication.

For support in communication and AAC, including which forms to try and to teach a child to use them effectively, seek an SLP with experience in providing AAC supports. 

DSRF Resources

Top 3 Tips for Using AAC at Home

Say What? Augmentative and Alternative Communication

The LowDOWN Podcast, Episode 4-7: Riley Rosebush, RSLP & Marie-Elise Marcoux – Express Yourself: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (Oct. 13, 2021)

Other Resources

PrAACtical AAC

Signing Time

Signing Savvy