AAC Devices

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

December 2, 2022

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to any form of communication that is not speech. AAC devices provide an alternate way to communicate using sight and touch. These devices can be as low-tech as a piece of paper with pictures for a child to point to. There are also high-tech devices like tablets with specialized apps for communicating.

AAC devices can be useful tools for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are minimally verbal or who have difficulty communicating. 

Who Benefits From AAC?

Anyone whose communication needs are not met by speech or writing can benefit from AAC. Between 25 and 35 percent of children with ASD are minimally verbal or nonverbal, meaning they do not communicate with spoken language. 

Children that would benefit most from these devices usually fall into one of the following groups:

  • Those who understand spoken language but have a hard time expressing themselves
  • Those who need extra support to understand spoken language or help express themselves
  • Those who need an alternate form of communication

What Are the Options for AAC Devices?

There are many options for AAC devices. There isn’t one “best” device or method. The best option for each child is the one that most closely fits each individual’s strengths and needs. Some children may benefit from more than one type of AAC

No-Tech and Low-Tech Options

AAC that uses little to no tech can be used for basic social interactions and requests.

Signs and gestures can be taught to children to help them express themselves. To use this method, the child’s motor skills must be able to support the sign or gesture. 

A picture exchange communication system (PECS) is another common low-tech option that does not require any speech or sign language. In this method, the child has cards with pictures of symbols that they can trade in exchange for the item. For example, if a child wants spaghetti for dinner, they can trade their card with a picture of spaghetti. 

Mid-Tech Options

Mid-tech AAC devices are usually battery-operated electronic devices with simple functions. Many mid-tech devices can generate speech by touching a button. The speech generated by these devices can be a computerized voice or a recorded voice. Some devices allow you to personalize your messages, giving your friends and family the opportunity to create the recordings. 

These devices can be as simple as a single button with a pre-programmed message (such as “I am hungry.”) that plays after it is pressed. 

Some devices use an overlay display with pictures. When the child presses on the picture, it plays a recorded message. Examples of these devices are GoTalk and QuickTalker. 

These devices can be customizable to fit each individual’s needs. Some messages that you may use in these devices include:

  • Greetings (“Hi, nice to meet you.”)
  • Basic needs (“I need the bathroom.”, “I am hungry.”)
  • Common questions (“What is that?”)
  • Common comments (“I’m done.”, “I need help.”)

These devices are quick and easy to use, but can be limiting since there are only a set number of messages available. 

High-Tech Options

High-tech AAC devices are more advanced electronic devices, including tablets and computers. These devices have more advanced features but can take additional training to learn how to use them. 

Some devices are specifically made for people with communication challenges, such as Dynavox.

There are also many apps available to assist with communication that can be downloaded on any type of tablet, such as an iPad. There are a variety of AAC apps with different capabilities. Advanced features in some apps allow for adding custom vocabulary words, copy-pasting text, and using the app to speak during calls.

What Are the Benefits of AAC Devices?

AAC devices can be very beneficial for many children with autism. 

AAC Devices Are Effective

Research shows that AAC devices are effective tools for children with autism. AAC devices can improve a child’s ability to make requests and reduce challenging behaviors.

Most of the research showing benefits to children with autism is in older, low-tech methods, such as PECS. However, more research into newer, high-tech options also shows benefits. 

AAC Devices Develop Language Skills

Speech-generating devices can help children develop verbal speech and language skills much more quickly. In the past, researchers were concerned that these devices might impede development. However, studies show that most children demonstrate gains in speech after using an AAC device. 

AAC Devices Help Build Relationships

AAC devices allow children with autism to express themselves and let their friends and family members know what they are thinking and feeling. When children feel understood, it can lead to stronger relationships.

AAC Devices Are Portable

Many AAC devices are easily portable, allowing children to communicate wherever they go. 

How Can I Get an AAC Device?

The first step to getting an AAC device is to work with a speech-language pathologist to have a communication assessment. The assessment will help determine which language system or AAC device best fits the child’s needs. 

Ask your child’s school district about accommodations for students and ask if they can fund an AAC device. Private insurance or Medicaid may also have options for no-cost or low-cost AAC devices. 

Conclusion

AAC devices are a useful communication tool for anyone who needs help communicating and expressing themselves. There are many different options for all needs and skill levels. AAC devices help children with autism express themselves while improving language skills and reducing disruptive behaviors. Many people can get free or low-cost AAC devices through their school or insurance. 

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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