What is an AAC Device for Autism?

July 2, 2024

Discover what an AAC device for autism is and how it empowers communication and social engagement.

Understanding AAC Devices

Before discussing AAC devices for autism, it's crucial to understand what AAC is and the types of AAC systems that exist. AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, is a broad term that covers the diverse ways individuals communicate outside of verbal speech.

What is AAC?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. It encompasses all the ways individuals communicate besides traditional verbal speech. The purpose of AAC is to support individuals who have difficulties with speech or language skills, either temporarily or permanently. This wide array of communication methods is used by people of all ages, from toddlers to adults, and is particularly beneficial for those who have not yet begun to talk, have lost the ability to speak, or find speaking more challenging than other communication methods [1].

Types of AAC Systems

AAC systems can be categorized into two primary groups: Unaided AAC and Aided AAC. Unaided AAC does not require a physical aid or tool. On the other hand, Aided AAC involves tools or materials, and it can further be divided into high-tech and low-tech solutions.

High-tech Aided AAC systems include speech-generating devices or AAC apps on iPads. These devices often allow for customization and offer a wide range of symbols, pictures, and words for the individual to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs effectively.

Low-tech Aided AAC systems, such as communication books or boards, provide a cost-effective and easily accessible solution for individuals who may not have access to high-tech devices or prefer simpler communication methods.

The table below summarizes the different types of AAC systems:

AAC Systems Subcategories Examples
Unaided AAC - Sign language, Gestures, Facial expressions
Aided AAC Low-tech Communication books, Picture boards
High-tech Speech-generating devices, AAC apps

The choice of AAC system is tailored to the individual's needs, abilities, and preferences, ensuring effective communication for all [1]. Understanding these different systems is the first step in finding the best AAC device for autism.

Benefits of AAC for Autism

When it comes to supporting individuals with autism, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices play a significant role. These tools offer numerous advantages that can greatly enhance the quality of life for nonverbal individuals with autism. In this segment, we will explore how AAC devices can enhance communication skills, support language development, and overcome communication barriers.

Enhancing Communication Skills

Firstly, AAC devices provide a voice for those who struggle with verbal speech. According to Brighter Strides ABA, these voice output communication devices have been used for many years to help individuals with developmental and acquired disabilities communicate effectively.

AAC includes various types of systems, from no-tech and low-tech options to high-tech solutions. These systems are tailored to individual needs and preferences, thereby promoting effective communication. Furthermore, AAC devices offer auditory output that provides sensory feedback, aiding in the development of receptive and expressive language skills in children with autism [2].

Supporting Language Development

Contrary to common concerns, using AAC does not hinder speech development. In fact, research shows that AAC can support language development, literacy skills, and motivation to communicate effectively.

Research indicates that AAC can benefit individuals of all ages, including children younger than 3 years old. There's no need to meet specific cognitive or developmental milestones before starting to use AAC. This means that AAC devices can be integrated into therapy and daily routines from a young age, allowing children with autism to start developing language skills early.

Overcoming Communication Barriers

Finally, AAC devices enable nonverbal individuals with autism to overcome their communication barriers and effectively express themselves. By providing alternative means of communication, AAC devices empower individuals with autism to convey their thoughts, emotions, and needs.

This ability to communicate can greatly improve their social interactions and relationships. It can also reduce frustration and behavioral issues that can arise from an inability to express oneself. Furthermore, using AAC devices can enhance an individual's autonomy and decision-making capacity, contributing to their self-confidence and overall quality of life.

Overall, AAC devices offer a powerful tool for enhancing communication and language skills and overcoming communication barriers for individuals with autism. Their tailored design, ability to support early language development, and capacity to break down communication barriers make them an essential resource in supporting individuals with autism.

Implementing AAC Devices

The implementation of AAC devices, which aid in the communication process for individuals with autism, involves several key steps. These include the evaluation process, making individualized recommendations, and accessing the AAC devices.

Evaluation Process

Determining the most fitting AAC system for an individual with autism requires an extensive evaluation process. A multidisciplinary team, including speech-language pathologists and other specialists, is typically involved in this process. The team assesses the individual's specific needs and communication abilities, preferences, and goals to recommend the appropriate AAC device [4].

Individualized Recommendations

It is critical to work with a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) to identify the most effective AAC device that caters to an individual's unique communication needs. The SLP can give insight into the cost and coverage options for AAC devices. Some insurance plans may cover the ongoing costs of AAC devices, and there may be nonprofit organizations and government programs that provide funding assistance for individuals in need [5].

Accessing AAC Devices

AAC devices cater to children with diverse needs, including those who face challenges in motor skills. Different access methods such as key guards, switches, and eye gaze technology can be employed to facilitate communication. High-tech systems can be tailored to accommodate the child's advancing communication skills by expanding the screen options as their skills grow.

The benefits of AAC devices are not limited to children with autism who do not use their voices to speak. They offer visual support to express themselves, teach consent, and enable them to communicate their desires and emotions effectively. AAC can also be beneficial for verbal individuals who may struggle with expressing thoughts or emotions verbally.

The process of implementing AAC devices is a journey that requires careful evaluation, individualized recommendations, and accessibility. By working with a dedicated team of professionals and understanding the unique needs of the individual, this process can lead to the successful integration of AAC into their communication routine.

AAC Devices for Autism

Answering the question "what is an AAC device for autism?" involves exploring a variety of devices designed to aid communication. These devices, also known as voice output communication devices, have been used for many years to help individuals with developmental and acquired disabilities communicate successfully. These include voice output communication devices, picture-based systems, and high-tech AAC apps.

Voice Output Communication Devices

Voice output communication devices, also known as Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs), are electronic devices that allow individuals with limited or no verbal communication abilities to communicate using synthesized speech. These devices range from simple button-activated devices to more complex touchscreen tablets with customizable communication software, providing a portable and customizable means of communication for individuals with autism.

These devices are designed to give a voice to children who are unable to speak, providing an alternative means of communication through speech-output devices like computers.

Picture-Based Systems

Picture-based systems like the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) are widely used AAC methods for individuals with autism. They utilize a system of pictures or visual symbols to represent words or concepts.

PECS provides a visual representation of words and concepts, enabling individuals to express their needs, wants, and thoughts effectively and can be implemented in various settings, including home, school, and therapy sessions.

High-Tech AAC Apps

In addition to physical devices, there are also high-tech AAC apps available that can be downloaded onto tablets or smartphones. These apps offer a variety of communication options, allowing children to express themselves in ways that are comfortable and effective for them.

These apps cater to different needs and abilities, providing individuals with autism the opportunity to communicate in a way that suits their preferences and strengths [7].

The choice of AAC device will depend on the individual's unique needs, capabilities, and preferences. It's important to note that successful implementation of AAC devices often requires training and ongoing support from a team of professionals, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and special educators. With the right support, AAC devices can empower individuals with autism to communicate more effectively and live more fulfilling lives.

Success Stories with AAC

The impact of AAC devices on the lives of individuals with autism cannot be understated. From enhancing verbal speech to fostering social connections, these devices have proven to be an invaluable tool in empowering those who find communication challenging.

Improving Verbal Speech

Contrary to the misconception that AAC devices might discourage verbal speech, research has shown that providing an AAC system to a child does not inhibit the development of verbal speech. In fact, it often enhances verbal speech. AAC systems provide an active means of communication that can improve verbal speech by helping children learn the meaning of words, expand their vocabulary, and form phrases and sentences independently.

The auditory output of AAC devices also aids in the development of language skills, offering sensory feedback that is beneficial for developing both receptive and expressive language skills in children with autism [2].

Fostering Social Connections

Beyond improving verbal speech, AAC devices also play a significant role in fostering social connections. These devices allow non-verbal children with autism to communicate messages to listeners, even if they are unable to speak verbally. This ability to express themselves can significantly help in building trust between the child and adults in their world [8].

While it's true that every child is unique and the success of AAC devices can vary, these success stories illuminate the potential of these tools. They serve as a reminder that with the right resources and support, individuals with autism can find their voice and navigate the world with increased confidence and autonomy.

Considerations for AAC Implementation

While augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices can be transformative for individuals with autism, there are several considerations to keep in mind when implementing these tools. These include understanding the cost and insurance coverage, the involvement of specialists, and establishing effective communication strategies.

Cost and Insurance Coverage

The cost of AAC devices can vary significantly based on the type of device, features, and customization options needed. Low-tech AAC devices can range from less than $50 to a few hundred dollars, while high-tech devices can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Ongoing costs for maintenance, repairs, and software updates may also apply [5].

Type of AAC Device Cost Range
Low-tech AAC devices $50 - $500
High-tech AAC devices $1000 - $10,000+

Despite the potential costs, AAC devices can be obtained through various avenues, such as purchasing an iPad or tablet and downloading an AAC app or working with a child's doctor to access AAC devices covered by health insurance. Most health insurances in the United States cover the cost of AAC devices, making them more accessible to families. Many insurance plans, including Medicaid and private insurance, may cover the cost of AAC devices under certain conditions. The specific coverage and requirements for AAC devices may vary by state and insurance provider. It is important to inquire with the insurance provider to understand the coverage, requirements, and potential for ongoing maintenance and replacement costs [5].

Involvement of Specialists

Implementing AAC devices for individuals with autism should involve a team of specialists. It is recommended to work with a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) to determine the most appropriate and effective AAC device for an individual's specific communication needs. The SLP can also provide information on the cost and coverage options for AAC devices.

Effective Communication Strategies

AAC devices for autism are designed to give a voice to children who are unable to speak, providing an alternative means of communication through pictures, gestures, sign language, visual aids, or speech-output devices like computers. To ensure effective communication, it's important to incorporate the AAC device into daily routines, consistently model its use, and encourage the child to use the AAC device to express their thoughts, needs, and feelings.

In summary, implementing AAC devices for autism can be a complex process involving various considerations, but the positive impact on the individual's communication and overall quality of life is well worth the effort. By understanding the costs, involving the right specialists, and employing effective strategies, individuals with autism can effectively utilize AAC devices to enhance their communication capabilities.


[1]: https://www.assistiveware.com/learn-aac/what-is-aac

[2]: https://www.aacandautism.com/about/why-aac

[3]: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/

[4]: https://www.brighterstridesaba.com/blog/what-is-an-aac-device-for-autism

[5]: https://adayinourshoes.com/aac-devices-for-autism-and-communication/

[6]: https://www.hopebridge.com/blog/what-is-an-aac-device-for-communication/

[7]: https://www.abtaba.com/blog/aac-device-for-autism

[8]: https://www.speechandlanguagekids.com/giving-voice-non-verbal-children-autism-aac-autism/

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