How can augmented alternative communication (aac) help your nonverbal child?

If your child has a visual impairment, or is nonverbal, or has some other disability then you may find that they need to use alternative ways to communicate their needs and wants than you are used to. The term augmented alternative communication (aac) refers to alternative methods that can be used to help a child (or adult) communicate. In this article we are going to give you an overview of alternative methods of communication, and a more in-depth look at aac devices in order for you to make a more informed decision about whether they would be helpful to your child or not.



What is communication?

We have had many parents contact us to say ‘my child is nonverbal help’ and that is something that we always aim to do. Having the ability to communicate our wants and needs is one of the most basic activities of life. Communication is basically the passing of information between two people – with one being the sender and one the receiver. Both parties are important in the communication process and both the receiver and the sender need to understand the message being communicated and the way in which it is being communicated.


How do people communicate?

Everyone communicates but children who are on the autistic spectrum may not be able to use spoken or written language to do so. However, these are not the only ways in which we can communicate and there are a variety of ways that people can get the message across using a wide range of communication methods and systems appropriate for your child. These systems range from gestures to manual signs, to systems using objects, pictures and symbols, to technological devices or by a combination of all of these methods.


What are some key communication terms you may need to know?

Some of the key terms you may hear in regards to your child and communication:

  • Communication boards/books – these are two types of symbol systems which use symbols which are displayed in a way in which your child can point to in order to help them communicate with other people
  • Expressive communication – this is the way in which someone conveys their thoughts. It could be through crying, gesturing, pointing, signing or speaking
  • Pre-symbolic or non-symbolic communication – refers to communication that doesn’t use symbols such as words or signs and so doesn’t have a shared meaning for others. Receivers of the message have to guess at the meaning of the messages
  • Receptive communication – is the way in which the receiver understands or interprets the sender’s communication such as listening or reading
  • Sign language – refers to signs made with the hands which represent ideas and words and have a specific meaning. Signs can be recognised visually or by the receiver making the signs in the receiver’s hands.
  • Symbolic communication – refers to communication involving a shared message between the sender and receiver such as picture communication systems, sign language, speech, tactile communication systems and writing (braille or print)
  • Symbol systems – are systems which use objects, pictures or tactile symbols as a way of communicating.
  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) – refers to the use of alternative methods to help a child to communicate.

What are Augmentative and Alternative Communication Methods?

As we explained above, augmentative and communication methods are objects or devices that a child can use to help them to communicate, and they can take the form of facial expressions, gestures, sign language, speech or vocalisations. Examples of aided forms of communication can include the following:

  • Activating a device. Your child may press a button or switch on a recorded speech device initiating a vocal output that says “I’m hungry”
  • Pointing to symbols or pictures on a board or in a book.
  • Using an object to convey their meaning, such as handing you a cup to convey the fact that they are thirsty

It is important to remember that your child will use both aided and unaided methods of communication. Learning to communicate unaided is important as your child may not always have access to a communication aid or device in every situation they come across.


What are AAC devices?

There are a wide range of aac devices on the market, ranging from the simplest of devices to the most sophisticated – and the range available is constantly being added to. Each child’s needs will be very different, and it is important to take the time to find the device that is just right for them. If your child is working with speech and development therapists then they will work with you to determine what sort of device is appropriate for your child. It is important that professionals are involved in your choice as they will know exactly what your child’s communication issues are, and which type of device might be the best for them.

There are different types of devices which can be used by autistic children, and these include:

  • Communication board. This can be made of cardboard or wood, or other solid surface and it features a grid containing two or more symbols. The symbols could be actual objects, pictorial representations of objects or symbols in print. If they are using a communication board then the child will express themselves by pointing to the object, picture or symbol
  • Communication books. Similar to a communication board, a communication book contains pictures or symbols that a child can point to. Sometimes the book will be arranged into categories such as emotions, food and people to make it easier for the child to find what they want.
  • Your child types their message on the keyboard which an automated voice then reads out loud.
  • Recorded speech device. You or your other children can record messages for your child to use and they can activate them by just pressing a button.



There are a variety of ways in which your child can communicate including text to speech devices. After all, it is important that every child has the chance to communicate their needs, isn’t it?