By: McKenzie Jones, M.S.. CF-SLP

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices: Achieving Communicative Success

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were unable to speak? For some children this idea is a fact of their daily life; however, just because they do not have words, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to say. Every individual has the innate desire and right to communicate their wants and needs during their daily life but, for children who are nonverbal or who have communication difficulties, this communication can be exhausting to achieve. To help bridge the gap between verbal and nonverbal communication augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices can be implemented.

What is an AAC device? First and foremost, it is communication enhancing system. People who use AAC devices can use them to add to their existing communication abilities to improve their overall communication’s effectiveness. An AAC device can range from simple pictures of desired objects all the way to speech-generating devices. AAC provides the ability for these children to achieve success in their communicative attempts. This success can be life-changing for children who have previously been unable to communicate their wants and needs effectively. For some children, the successful communication they achieve through the use of an AAC device may be the first time that have been able to fully communicate their desires. Despite the benefits of AAC devices, parents and family members of children with communication difficulties can be wary about their incorporation due to common misconceptions.

Some common misconceptions about AAC:

· Introducing an AAC device means we’ve given up on my child talking.  Research has shown that the use of AAC does not decrease children’s use of natural speech. It has also been shown to improve natural speech when incorporated in therapy(“American Speech-Language-Hearing Association”).

· My child is too young for AAC.  When AAC is implemented in early language it has been shown to increase the development of natural speech and language.  Increases in receptive language ability have been seen with the implantation of AAC (“American Speech-Language-Hearing Association”).

· My child is unable to use his/her hands; will he/she benefit from AAC?  When your child is being assessed for an AAC system, a special team of professionals will work together to find the perfect system for your child. This team always includes you and your child’s speech-language pathologist (SLP) and may also include an occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT), nurse, and classroom teacher (2005). With this team, your child’s ability to use a switch will be tested. A switch is a device that is used on a computer or AAC device, and it allows the individual to activate their device using their head, fist, foot, or even smaller muscles (Stephen Hawking’s AAC device was activated by a small muscle in his cheek) (2005).

Children with communication difficulties or who are nonverbal can improve their communication and quality of life by implementing AAC. By using these devices to achieve success in their communication these children can open a whole new world of possibilities for themselves.

Parent Resources About AAC:


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2020, from§ion

Frailey, M.A., CCC-SLP, C. (2005). Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Terms to

Know. Retrieved January 28, 2020, from