AAC 101: What is AAC? - Part 2

This is part 2 of a six part series on AAC 101:  A Primer for Supporting an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) User. Look for parts 3 through 6 coming up over the next several weeks.

What is Augmentative-Alternative Communication?  

According to the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA), it is, “…a set of procedures and processes by which an individual’s communication skills (i.e. production as well as comprehension) can be maximized for functional and effective communication.  It involves supplementing or replacing natural speech… with aided… and/or unaided symbols…”  

Note that this definition

  • refers to communication approaches that augment speech or serve as an alternative

  • refers to all methods that make communication easier or possible

  • may include facial expressions; gestures; an alphabet, words or picture board; a computer; and other similar systems.

According to ASHA, the “goal of augmentative and alternative communication use is the most effective interaction possible.  Anything less represents a compromise of the individual’s human potential.”

Ultimately, the most effective communication is achieved through spontaneous novel utterance generation (SNUG).

SNUG allows someone to say anything they want, by combining words, word combinations, and commonly used phrases.  It’s based on normal language (moving from single words to word combinations), and on the notion that most sentences we use we’ve never used before.  

Consider:  if most sentences we use we’ve not used before, then how can we predict which number of limited number of sentences someone else will want to use?  

In fact, pre-stored messages (as have been found on many AAC users’ systems) are rarely used in social contexts by AAC users, according to the research (Balandin & Iacono, 1999; Hill, 2010).

Thus, it needs to be the goal of AAC intervention to provide our clients and students with the words to say whatever they want to, whenever they want to, wherever they want to.

Susan Berkowitz, MS CCC-SLP, MEd., has been a speech-language pathologist for 40 years. She has worked mostly with children and adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and other developmental disabilities, as well as 8 years in the language-based classrooms in a school district. Susan has worked in public and non-public schools, residential settings, and nonprofit community agencies. She has written for peer-reviewed professional journals and presented at international conferences. Visit her website  and blog for additional resources. For her complete resume, click here.

Balandin, S., & Iacono, T. (1999). Crews, wusses, and whoppas: Core and fringe vocabularies of Australian meal-break conversations in the workplace. Augmentative and Alternative Communication15(2), 95-109.

Hill, K. (2010). Advances in Augmentative and Alternative Communication as Quality- of-Life Technology. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 21(1), 43-58.