What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?


Besides oral communication, people communicate through aided and unaided means such as through body language, signs, electronic devices, written communication, and other forms that exclude speech. In some instances, the communication by Augmentative and Alternative Communication occurs due to the inability to communicate or even some form of impairment. Specialists who help people with such impairments, otherwise called SLP, recommend using AAC. The AAC serves for complimentary communication purposes, especially for persons with speech complications.

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The AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) refers to all forms of communication but excludes the oral speech used to express thoughts, wants, needs, and ideas. Therefore, the use of AAC is universal to all people but varies from one form to the other. For instance, people use AAC whenever they make expressions by face, use gestures, use pictures and symbols, and write. These are all different forms of communication through oral or by speech (Baumann & Belin, 2010). Often, people suffering from oral impairment opt for the AAC to supplement the lost ability to communicate or as the only mechanism for communication. The purpose of billboards, pictures, symbols, communication boards, electronic devices, and other equipment function as augmentative communication aids, especially for people with speech impairments. The use of such aids in communication assists individuals to communicate effectively, improve learning and school performances, boost personal worth, and improve their feelings. Nevertheless, as a disclaimer, the use of communication devices should not inhibit speech, but they should improve it.

There are different kinds of AAC communication aids, which are grouped into aided communication systems and unaided systems of communication. For the unaided systems, the patients rely on gestures, signs, and general body language to convey messages. On the other hand, in the case of aided communication systems, the victim employs other equipment and tools besides the use of body language, as explained in the unaided communication system. The aided communication adopts methods including the use of written materials, speech-generating devices, as well as written outputs. Furthermore, electronic tools facilitate aided communication, such as letters, picture symbols, phrases, or words.

Among other uses in which the AAC is applied is in speech-language pathology. The speech-language pathology can be defined as an expert field practiced by specialists called SLP (speech-language pathologists). Speech therapists specialize in evaluating and treating disorders of communication, as well as disorders in swallowing. The field of specialization relies on speech components such as produced sounds, phonation, resonance, intonation, and fluency, among others. Other attributes considered are pitch variance and the study of voice.

Speech-language pathology specializes in providing various services primarily on an individualized basis (Hadely, Power & O’Halloran, 2014). In addition, they offer specialized assistance to the families and support groups responsible for the victims. The specialists in the fieldwork are supposed to assess, prevent, diagnose, and treat speech and language disorders in children and adults. The services in treating speech disorders start with screening for swallowing and communication disorders, after which the assessment and treatment follow. After the diagnosis and treatment, the therapists give advice on management and counseling services for the disorders. The therapy evaluates and treats cognitive aspects of communication, speech, language, swallowing issues, voice, and sensory awareness.

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Different groups of persons rely on the AAC, including patients with cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment, Autism, developmental verbal dyspraxia, aphasia, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and multiple sclerosis conditions, among others (Eadie, et al., 2013). In fact, many people encounter speech problems in their lifetime. Surprisingly, a person may feel like he/she does not want to talk and decide to use the easiest means of communication, such as nodding, body gestures, or backing up speaking with writing. In other instances, an impairment may be long-term because of developmental disability, injury, stroke, medical operation, and cases of degenerative diseases. Therefore, whether the impairments last long or not, therapists often use AAC interventions. In fact, it is through such methods as AAC that persons suffering from speech disabilities can be helped to learn the art of communication again. However, one factor that the success of AAC interventions relies on is the moral support that a patient acquires from the people around him/her.

The study of speech shows that communication as a process occurs through some form of medium, and the ability of an individual to communicate does not rely on the individual alone. Effective communication depends on the social environment within which the interaction is encouraged, expected, and nurtured. Such an environment is called a supportive environment because the involved persons expect that one has something to share or express. As social beings, every person has an opportunity for interaction and communication. For this reason, AAC uses mechanisms or aids for impaired persons to communicate and express themselves. The relevance of the people around the speech-impaired person is to avail such devices for the person to enable communication.

Therapists explain that for effective communication, the victims must be treated well and allowed to access communication aids (Marckel, Neef & Ferreri, 2006). Besides, the long-term perspective in the therapy requires that all persons around them facilitate their access to the communication aids. The SLP recommends that the immediate family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers should create the environment for effective communication. When such persons realize that the impairment should not end the communication life of the victim, then AAC should be the best approach. Through the interventions, the persons enable the impaired to communicate in some form, a situation that makes them feel appreciated and have a sense of belonging. However, research by the SLP recommends further support strategies, environmental conditions, equipment and devices, adaptations and modifications, and social strategies. Research has shown that some individuals fail to communicate effectively through gestures, sign language, and or AAC devices. Others only minimally use these aids for communication; therefore, interventionist therapies are applied. Training is the basic intervention that many therapists recommend. Notably, through practice, impaired persons can learn communication again.


Issues of communication impairments are prevalent in people of different ages and under different circumstances. Augmentative and alternative communications explain all other forms of communication through which people communicate, except oral speech. While the common use of gestures, body language, electronic aids, and even writing present immediate mechanisms through which people communicate, the specialized field of language therapy embraces them for treatment purposes. Therefore, the interaction between speech-language therapy and the use of Augmentative and alternative communication is a necessary intervention for persons with communication disabilities. Evidently, it is worth noting that effectiveness in the use of AAC has been and continues to be used for therapeutic purposes for speech impairments.



Baumann, O., & Belin, P. (2010). Perceptual scaling of voice identity: Common dimensions for different vowels and speakers. Psychological Research, 74(1), 110-20.

Eadie, K., B.BehavSc, Carlyon, M. J.,B.AppSc (SpPath), Stephens, Joanne, MAVE, GCertSpEd (ASD),B.Nur, D., & Wilson, M. D.,B.AppSc (SpPath). (2013). Communicating in the pre-hospital emergency environment. Australian Health Review, 37(2), 1-6.

Hadely, K. A., Power, E., & O’Halloran, R. (2014). Speech pathologists’ experiences with stroke clinical practice guidelines and the barriers and facilitators influencing their use: A national descriptive study. BMC Health Services Research, 14, 110.

Marckel, J. M., Neef, N. A., & Ferreri, S. J. (2006). A preliminary analysis of teaching improvisation with the picture exchange communication system to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39(1), 109-15.

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