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What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) covers a wide range of techniques which support or replace spoken communication. These include gesture, signing, symbols, word boards, communication boards and books, as well as communication aids.

Some kinds of AAC are part of everyone's communication, for example: waving goodbye; giving a 'thumbs up' instead of speaking; pointing to a picture or gesturing in a foreign country. However, some people with CSN rely on AAC most/all of the time.

AAC can provide other ways of communicating to express thoughts, feelings and ideas, and to transmit information or ask questions. It can also help with understanding, when an individual finds it difficult to understand the language that others are saying. Having a communication partner who knows best how to support AAC use, makes for more successful communication.

Watch the following videos for information about the different ways that we communicate and for an introduction to AAC.


How can technology help?

The different types of AAC can be described as unaided, not involving any additional equipment ie: signing, gestures or eye pointing. Other types of AAC are aided forms and involve technology in some way, often referred to as low tech for paper-based supports or high tech involving electronic devices.

The range of technology-based AAC systems is vast, from a simple word or symbol board to a communication aid with voice output and full vocabulary/language, when matched to an individual’s needs appropriately, can give them a voice and reduce the impact of the CSN.

As well as having access to the technology, it is essential that appropriate assessment and support can be put in place, as an individual must often learn the skills to operate and navigate an AAC system, learn to use the language it contains, and learn turn taking and other communication skills.

So, to make effective use of AAC, an individual must have:

  • Specialist AAC assessment to match needs to the technology
  • Time to learn and practice use, before being able to use in a functional way
  • Support from others to model, teach and provide opportunities for use
  • Support from others to implement and integrate AAC into the learning and other environments

Specialist AAC services whether local, regional or national, such CALL Scotland, can provide assessment, advice and training, and many are represented on the Scottish national AAC network group - Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland (ACIP:S).