Navigating the World of AAC

An introduction to speech-generating devices and their benefits

When someone is unfamiliar with what Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices are, a reference to Stephen Hawking—the former theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author who is world-renowed for his brilliance—is likely to help them understand. Hawking’s use of a speech-generating device later in his life to communicate his extremely complex theories was astounding, and led many to understand an important, core truth: Just because someone cannot speak, doesn’t mean they don’t have important things to say.

In this month’s newsletter, we present an overview of AAC by outlining its purpose, its advantages, and its options for individuals and families who can benefit from its use.


AAC Rhyme Time

Explore and celebrate differences in communication with this book, which depicts colorful and enchanting images of children and their use of various forms of AAC.

Product: Feelings in a Flash

Help your child communicate their feelings via an AAC mode: picture cues! This game also targets improved social/emotional skills, helping children to learn to recognize various emotions in themselves and others.

For other product ideas that target improved sensory processing, oral motor and language skills, please ask to “shop” at CTC’s very own product table, located within our clinic!

AAC: Where Do I Start?

An overview of current AAC apps and their benefits

AAC—short for Alternative and Augmentative Communication—is any form of communication used to supplement or substitute verbal speech in a variety of children and adults. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association defines AAC as: “…all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas.” While the typical representation of AAC is characterized by a handheld device with a dynamic display, AAC, by definition, is also represented by picture exchange systems, sign language, facial expressions and gestures. For the purposes of this article, “AAC” will refer to aided devices that provide verbal communication in individuals who are non- or minimally-verbal.

AAC has developed extensively in the past decade, particularly with the onset of the iPad and various technological advances in smartphones. With these devices, currently obtaining an aided communication device is as easy as owning a phone or tablet and downloading an AAC app.

A variety of AAC apps are currently available to consumers. Basic apps are often free or offered at a very low cost, whereas more robust apps are upwards of $150.

An outline of some apps and their features follows:

Visuals2Go (free to download; options to upgrade)

Created to support people with learning and communication difficulties, Visuals2Go allows parents, caregivers, educators and therapists the ability to create, customize and even print visuals for a variety of purposes. It is helpful for users in communciating single words, making choices between/among items or sentence building to extend their vocabulary.

YesNo (free)

This free app is helpful for targeting an early-developing, yet highly effective communication ability: answering “yes” and “no.” For those unable to communicate these messages verbally or with body language or gestures, this app will help users communicate their basic wants and needs with facilitation from others.

Snap Core First ($49.99)

Snap Core First is an affordable and highly-rated symbol-supported AAC app offered through Tobii Dynavox. It is developed to grow alongside a communicator and is accessible via touch, eye gaze or switch. It can even have integrated access to smart home tools, such as Google Assistant! It is available on TobiiDynavox devices, or as an app on iPad or Windows devices.

Valentine’s Day Activities

Fun ways to participate in the holiday of love this year!

Stacking Conversation Hearts game

See how many conversation hearts you can stack using your hands, tweezers or chopsticks during a timed period. Whoever stacks the most hearts is the winner!

Learning AAC for “I love you”

Discuss different ways of communicating with your child (see the included article!) and teach them how to say, “I love you” using sign language.

Valentine’s Day Scavenger Hunt

Facilitate a scavenger hunt game and search for Valentine’s-themed items around your house! Ideas include: something heart-shaped; something red; a picture of someone you love; flowers; and a card from someone special.

TouchChat (free Lite version; $149.99+ full version)

Words, phrases and messages are spoken by a built-in voice synthesizer in the TouchChat app (by Saltillo) available for iPads, iPods and iPhones. Compatible iPad/iPhone devices can support head tracking, and a variety of touch access features are available. Pages, layout, buttons, messages and symbols are fully customizable, and personal photos can be added. In addition, text generated with TouchChat pages can be shared on social media or sent via iMessage or email with a wireless connection.

Proloquo2Go ($249.99 full version)

Proloquo2Go is a symbol-based app that is designed to support all users, from beginner to advanced. Features include customizable vocabulary levels and folder organization, regional vocabulary and accents, pre-programmed grid sizes, over 25,000 images and the ability to add your own images. An especially nice feature is that as the user’s vocabulary expands, core words stay in the same place to assist in motor planning.

Sono Flex (free Lite version, $99.99 full version)

Another Tobii Dynavox product, Sono Flex is available via iPhone, iPad, PC and select Tobii Dynavox devices. Core and topic-based vocabulary can be combined with over 11,000 symbols and 50 pre-set phrases. It is designed to be flexible to meet the unique needs of the user.

Many parents are intially hesitant about the use of AAC devices for their child, as they worry that its use will inhibit verbal speech further by “replacing” speech and/or making its user unmotivated to attempt speech. Research, however, does not support these worries. AAC devices, when used in a multimodal approach is shown to improve natural speech when therapy simultaneously focuses on natural speech development (Millar, Light and Schlosser, 2006; Sedey, Rosin and Miller, 1991). In a study comparing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who used speech-generating devices (SGD) to children with ASD who did not, those with access to a SGD exhibited increased spontaneous and novel utterances (Kasari et al., 2014). Additionally, multiple studies—and countless parent feedback—have indicated that the use of a communication device significantly decreases challenging behaviors that often result from a child’s frustration with being unable to communicate effectively.

To learn more about AAC and discuss whether a speech-generating device is appropriate for your child, reach out to your child’s speech-language pathologist. Together, SLPs and parents can research the device/app that will best suit each individual child’s unique set of skills and needs.