What is AAC?

AAC stands for 'Augmentative and Alternative Communication'. This means any system other than a person's speech that is used for communicating such as signs, symbols and devices. 




Functions of Language

We communicate for so many different reasons! Asking questions, refusing, sharing news, greeting, requesting, sharing opinions. It is important that we show the AAC user how to use their system or device for all of these different functions. It is easy to get stuck on focusing the child to make requests e.g. for favourite toys or snacks. It is equally important for us to model different functions of communication e.g. sharing 'I think it's funny!' or 'who's turn?' or 'good morning' to help them to be an effective communicator. 


Key strategies for implementing AAC

1. See me, see my AAC

The first step of becoming a confident AAC user is to have your AAC system always available. Can the system be easily grabbed when they have something to say? Try thinking of the system as the child's 'voice'. Think about when you need to use your voice. At the shops, visiting family, on the bus to school. Are you in the habit of taking the system to these different places? Making this strategy a habit is one of the most important ways you can make AAC successful. 


2. Modelling

Modelling means demonstrating to the AAC user how to use their communication system and is one of the most effective strategies for teaching how to use a system. For example, if a child uses a symbol to say 'banana', the adult might use 2 symbols to say 'peel banana', to show the AAC user how to expand their phrase. This strategy can be used across any AAC systems: signs, symbols, switches, anything! In effect we are showing the child how to use longer phrases or how to use different words to mean the same thing, in the same way that we would teach a typically developing child to talk using words. If you are looking for ideas in how to model language, see our handouts below for ideas: 

Core Vocabulary 

Match + 1


3. Make communication FUN

When teaching AAC, we need to make communication interesting. If your child loves waterplay, try using language relating to this activity e.g. 'pour', 'splash', 'wet', 'oops!', 'more', 'boat'. Point to symbols of these words as you say them. Point to the 'pour' symbol as you are pouring water from a jug. Pause and wait, point to the 'more' symbol then do it again! Making communication silly helps your child to value the AAC system e.g. getting your clothes wet and pointing to your 'oops!' symbol. Your child is much more likely to show interest in their AAC system if you show them how they can make it playful and fun. 


For further advice on how to create a supportive environment for children who use alternative communication systems, please see our page 'Communication Friendly Environment'. 


What are the different types of AAC? 


Signing and Gestures

Objects of Reference

Paper based systems - (photographs, symbols, writing, drawing)

Electronic systems


Useful links:

The ACE centre website contains lots of fantastic symbol boards which you can download for free to try with your child at home.  https://acecentre.org.uk/product-category/symbol-charts/