Early Links Supporting Inclusion

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Women and man using alternative communication
Elise Speech Pathologist

By Elise Hastings

Speech Pathology Senior Leader


What is augmentative and alternative communication?

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a term we use to describe all the different ways that people can communicate. Talking is only one method we use to get our message across. AAC can involve the use of gesture, facial expressions, writing, sign language, language boards, information bracelets, pictures and electronic devices (iPad, eye gaze device etc.).

Who uses augmentative and alternative communication?

Anyone can use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to communicate. AAC is for both non-speaking and speaking people who may need or prefer an alternative to talking. Some people will use a combination of different communication methods.

What is low tech augmentative and alternative communication?

Low tech augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to tools and strategies for communication that are not electronic, or battery operated. Examples include visuals, pictures, symbol charts, or communication boards/books.

Women and man using alternative communication

What is high tech augmentative and alternative communication?

High Tech augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) relates to an electronic device that stores and retrieves messages to support communication. This could include a dedicated communication device, which is sometimes known as a speech-generating device, or iPads/tablets that use communication apps. High tech devices can be accessed using hands, switches and even eye gaze!

What is Key Word Sign?

Key Word Sign (KWS) uses signs and natural gestures to support communication and language development. KWS uses signs from Australian Sign Language (Auslan), the language used by the Australian Deaf community. Key Word Sign involves signing important (key) words, at the same time as using speech. It is different from Auslan, which has its own language structure.


Here are some things to keep in mind when talking to someone who is using AAC:

  • Be patient: some methods of AAC take longer to use than others. Don’t try to jump in and finish a sentence or idea.
  • Listen and ask about how you can support the AAC user better: The person using the AAC knows best about what they need. Ask them what works for them and respect their answer.
  • Don’t underestimate the AAC user: Communication partners can sometimes interpret slow pace, long pauses, interrupted eye contact & blunt responses as poor communication skills; however, this may be the result of an imperfect AAC technology system, not a lack of skills or intelligence.
  • Advocate for the AAC user (ask others in the conversation to wait while the AAC users compose their message)
  • Be positive and open to communication with AAC users: Don’t be scared! Have a chat!

Where can I find out more?

If you want to find out more about augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), check out these websites:

You may also like…