What is an AAC Device for Autism?

Children with autism may struggle to express themselves verbally, which can make it difficult for them to communicate their wants and needs. One solution to this problem is the use of an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 18, 2023
min read

What is an AAC device?

An AAC device is any tool or strategy that helps a person with communication difficulties to express themselves. These devices can take many forms, from low-tech options like picture boards and communication books to high-tech options like speech-generating devices and tablets.

How do AAC devices work?

AAC devices work by providing a way for nonverbal individuals to communicate. Some devices use symbols or pictures to represent words or phrases, while others use text-to-speech technology to convert written words into spoken language. Some devices also have the ability to store pre-programmed messages, making it easier for individuals to communicate common phrases or requests.

AAC devices can be customized to meet the unique needs of each individual. For example, some devices may have larger buttons or symbols for individuals with fine motor difficulties, while others may have different language options for individuals who speak multiple languages.

Who can benefit from AAC devices?

AAC devices can benefit individuals with a wide range of communication difficulties, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental disorders. These devices can also be helpful for individuals who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

AAC devices can be particularly beneficial for individuals with autism who struggle with verbal communication. By providing an alternative means of communication, AAC devices can help individuals with autism to express themselves more effectively, reduce frustration and anxiety, and improve social interactions.

Why are AAC devices so beneficial?

AAC devices are incredibly beneficial for individuals with communication difficulties because they provide a way to express oneself that might not be otherwise possible.

For individuals with autism, AAC devices can help them communicate their thoughts and feelings in a way that is comfortable and effective for them. This can not only improve social interactions but also reduce feelings of isolation and frustration.

Moreover, the use of AAC devices has been shown to improve language development in children with autism. By providing an alternative means of communication, AAC devices can stimulate language acquisition and encourage the development of more complex sentence structures over time.

This can have a significant impact on a child's long-term communication skills and quality of life.

AAC devices also have the potential to increase independence for individuals who might otherwise rely on others to communicate their needs or wants.

By having access to an AAC device, individuals can feel more empowered to make decisions and communicate their desires without relying solely on others.

Overall, AAC devices offer a powerful tool for improving communication skills and quality of life for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders.

With the right support and training, these devices have the potential to unlock new opportunities for self-expression and social interaction, leading to improved outcomes across all areas of life.

Types of AAC devices

There are two main types of AAC devices: unaided and aided. Unaided AAC devices do not require any external tools or equipment and rely solely on the individual's body. Examples of unaided AAC devices include sign language, gestures, and facial expressions.

Aided AAC devices, on the other hand, require external tools or equipment to function. These devices can be low-tech, such as communication boards or picture books, or high-tech, such as speech-generating devices or tablets.

AAC myths and misconceptions

Despite the benefits of AAC devices, there are still many myths and misconceptions surrounding them. One common misconception is that using an AAC device will prevent individuals with communication difficulties from developing verbal language skills.

However, research has shown that using an AAC device can actually improve verbal communication skills by providing a means for individuals to practice language and engage in conversations.

Another myth is that only nonverbal individuals can benefit from AAC devices. In reality, AAC devices can be helpful for individuals with a wide range of communication difficulties, including those who have limited speech or difficulty expressing themselves in certain situations.

Some people also believe that using an AAC device is a sign of giving up on developing verbal communication skills or that it will isolate the individual from their peers. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Using an AAC device can actually increase social interaction by allowing individuals to communicate more effectively with others.

It's important to educate ourselves and others about these myths and misconceptions so that we can provide accurate information about the benefits of AAC devices and help promote effective communication for all individuals.

How to implement an AAC

Implementing an AAC device for a person with autism can seem overwhelming at first, but with the right approach, it can be a smooth and successful process. Here are some tips for implementing an AAC device:

  1. Start by assessing the individual's communication needs: Before choosing an AAC device, it's important to assess the individual's current communication skills and needs. This will help you choose the most appropriate device and customize it to meet their unique needs.
  2. Involve the individual in the process: It's important to involve the individual in the selection and implementation of the AAC device. This can help them feel more invested in the process and increase their motivation to use it.
  3. Provide training and support: Once you have chosen an AAC device, it's important to provide training and ongoing support for both the individual using the device and their caregivers or support team. This can include training on how to use the device, troubleshooting common issues, and providing ongoing support as needed.
  4. Incorporate the AAC device into daily routines: To ensure that the individual is using their AAC device regularly and effectively, it's important to incorporate it into their daily routines. This can include using it during mealtimes, playtime, social interactions, and other activities.
  5. Monitor progress and make adjustments as needed: Finally, it's important to monitor progress regularly and make adjustments as needed. This can include modifying the vocabulary on the device, adjusting its settings or layout based on feedback from the individual or their support team, or upgrading to a different type of device if necessary.

By following these steps, implementing an AAC device can be a positive experience that helps individuals with autism communicate more effectively with those around them.


AAC devices can be a valuable tool for individuals with autism who struggle with verbal communication. These devices can help individuals to express themselves more effectively, reduce frustration and anxiety, and improve social interactions.

By understanding the different types of AAC devices available, individuals with autism and their families can make informed decisions about which device is right for them.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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