3 Magic Letters: We Use AAC Every Day

If you haven't heard of AAC, I wouldn't blame you. However, if you:

  • use emojis in your social media

  • smile, frown, or use facial expressions

  • gesture or sign with your hands

  • point to items on the menu

  • doodle a diagram to get your idea across

  • write a note to a colleague

  • use powerpoint slides in a presentation

... you've probably used AAC.


These three letters stand for Alternative, Augmentative Communication and - in essence - they refer to the way we communicate in addition to, or secondary to, our spoken language.


Using a picture or diagram to enhance what we are saying helps get the message across to others; it helps us communicate more effectively.


People with and without communication difficulties might use alternative means to 'speak'. A preverbal child who isn't using verbal language yet might use a digital tablet with a full inventory of vocabulary pictures that they select so the device 'speaks' for them.


Texting with emojis can enhance the non-verbals of our expression (e.g. smiling, feeling sad) when text alone is not enough. This also explains why sometimes text-only messaging can sometimes lead to breakdowns in communication.



People fluent in sign-based languages such as Australian Sign Language may use their hands instead of spoken words to have a conversation. Of course, if someone is speaking as well as signing (e.g. with Key Word Sign), one medium enhances the other so rather than an alternative, the main means of communication is enhanced.


The medium is rarely relevant but usually suitable, given we all communicate in different ways. The ultimate goal is to express oneself and be understood effectively. Some people use AAC all the time whereas others may use it some of the time or only in certain contexts. It may also be a temporary measure (e.g. following a stroke, lost voice) or it may be something used in the long term.


AAC doesn't have to be complicated. A simple picture system can work wonders!


There are so many different types and examples of AAC it would be hard to explore each one here. However if a person facing communication challenges may benefit from AAC, a speech therapist will usually be able to support the right choice.


This week's Two Minute Tuesday shows some examples of AAC and how these may be used.