Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Autism

Sign languageFacilitated CommunicationPicture Exchange Communication SystemMakaton signVoice Output Communication Aid

This page provides links to information about some of the augmentative and alternative communication systems commonly used to help individuals on the autism spectrum.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is any form of communication that people use if they are unable or unwilling to use standard forms of communication such as speech.

Augmentative communication systems are designed to complement and sometimes enhance standard means of communication.

Alternative communication systems are designed to replace standard means of communication.

AAC systems are sometimes categorised into Unaided and Aided systems. 

Unaided Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Unaided AAC includes those forms of communication that we all use alongside spoken language and which do not require an external tool.

Unaided AAC includes

  • Facilitated Communication:  A form of alternative and augmentative communication in which someone physically supports an autistic person and helps him to point at pictures or words. (Please note:There is a significant body of research evidence to show that facilitated communication is ineffective when used with people on the autism spectrum. There is also evidence that facilitated communication can lead to significant harm.For these reasons we do not believe that it is an appropriate intervention for people on the autism spectrum.)
  • Sign Language: Languages which use hand shape, position, and movement; body movements; gestures; facial expressions; and other visual cues to form words
    • American Sign Language:
    • British Sign Language
    • Makaton
  • Total Communication Training: An approach that makes use of a number of modes of communication such as signed, oral, auditory, written and visual aids, depending on the particular needs and abilities of the individual

Aided AAC systems

Aided AAC systems use an external tool or device, electronic or otherwise.

Aided AAC systems are sometimes split into low and high tech systems.

Low Tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Low tech describes alternative and augmentative communication strategies which involve the use of equipment that is not electronic.

Low tech communication aids are often paper based and include communication books, charts etc..

  • Communication Boards and Boards   A board or book which shows words, photos and/or symbols.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) A form of alternative and augmentative communication in which a child is taught to communicate with an adult by giving them a card with a picture on it.
  • PIC: Picture Based AAC systems other than PECS

High Tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication

High tech describes all electronic communication aids from single message switches to sophisticated, computer based communication systems that have many additional features.

  • Mobile Devices. A range of portable devices such as mobile (cell) phones and tablets.
  • Voice Output Communication Aids Devices, also known as VOCAs or Speech Generating Devices, which enable the user to speak.

More Information

Please see Publications on Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Autism

Related Pages

Related Glossaries

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25 Oct 2017