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  • Writer's pictureDr. Taylor Hickok

AAC: What is it and could my loved one benefit?

What Is AAC?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. In plain English, AAC is any tool, strategy, or support that an individual can use to enhance or replace speaking verbally. AAC could be any of the following (and so, so much more!)

No Tech AAC: gestures, signing, facial expressions, vocalizations, body language

Low Tech AAC: communication boards or books, letter boards, or symbol charts

High Tech AAC: speech generating device or apps on iPads, tablets, or computers

Who can benefit from AAC?

AAC can benefit children and adults with communication deficits from the following conditions: stroke, traumatic brain injury, head and neck cancer, developmental delays, apraxia of speech, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and so many more. Research shows that AAC can benefit people of all ages, even those younger than 3 years old! There are no prerequisites to be able to use AAC- it can be beneficial for anyone!

Does using AAC mean we have given up on improving speech?

Absolutely not! Many people new to AAC are concerned that it may slow down or impede progress in improving language. This is a myth. The research clearly shows us that the reality is the opposite: AAC has therapeutic benefit and can aid in language development!

Would AAC be beneficial if my loved one has some intact speech?

It can be! Although your loved one has some intact speech, it may not be sufficient to communicate their basic wants and needs . It is important to examine if your loved one's speech is enough for them to be able to participate in activities of daily living, such as cooking, going shopping, making phone calls, etc. If they need help to communicate during these activities, AAC might be a good consideration!

My loved one just had a stroke. Is it too early for AAC?

There is no such thing as "too early for AAC". Many people who aren't familiar with AAC view it as a last resort or a bandage to facilitate communication while they wait for their loved one to regain their speech. In reality, AAC is therapeutic. It can be an essential tool for treatment and can help bridge the gap to support functional communication.

How quickly will my loved one learn AAC?

Keep in mind that AAC is not a silver bullet. Simply giving your loved one an iPad with a speech app will not automatically improve their speech. You can think of using AAC like learning a language; it will take direct instruction from an expert (in this case, an SLP) and lots of practice to be able to implement it.

My loved one is severely impaired. Can they still use AAC?

Absolutely. There are no cognitive or intellectual prerequisites to be able to use AAC. If someone is deprived from being able to communicate for an extended period of time, it can result in frustration, withdrawal, and resistance to communicate. Having access to AAC may improve the engagement of your loved one and motivate them to communicate more.

How do I choose what type of AAC is right for my loved one?

Choosing the most beneficial modality of AAC is a complex and daunting process. For the best outcomes, it is best to seek out the help of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in your area. You can find a list of qualified SLPs near you using ASHA's ProFind: Find Certified Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) (

At Rehab Rising we love AAC because everyone deserves a voice!


Beukelman, D., Garrett, K., & Yorkston, K., (2007). Augmentative communication strategies for adults with acute or chronic medical conditions. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing. (12)

Fager, S., Doyle, M., & Karantounis, R. (2007). Traumatic brain injury. In D. Beukelman, K. Garrett, & K. Yorkston (Eds.), Augmentative Communication Strategies for adults with acute or chronic medical conditions (pp. 131-162). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Light, J. (1996). Communication is the essence of human life. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 13, 61-70

Kangas, K., & Lloyd, L. (1988). Early cognitive skills as prerequisites to augmentative and alternative communication use: What are we waiting for? Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 4 (4), 211-221.

Tobii Dynavox US). What is AAC? Retrieved from

Everyone Deserves a Voice art by Isabel Santos: "Everyone Deserves A Voice" Art Board Print by freelysimple | Redbubble

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