What is an AAC Device for Autism?

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices can help people with autism overcome challenges and communicate effectively.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
June 22, 2023

What is an AAC Device for Autism?

What is an AAC Device?

An AAC device is any tool or device that helps individuals with communication difficulties express themselves. AAC devices can range from simple picture boards to sophisticated electronic devices that use synthesized speech. AAC devices can be low-tech or high-tech, depending on the individual's needs and abilities.

aac device

How Does an AAC Device Work?

AAC devices work by providing a means of communication for individuals who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. Low-tech AAC devices, such as picture boards or communication books, use pictures or symbols to represent words, phrases, or concepts.

High-tech AAC devices, such as tablets or speech-generating devices, use synthesized speech to produce spoken language.

AAC devices can be programmed with a variety of vocabulary and language options, and can be customized to meet the individual's specific communication needs. Some AAC devices also have features such as predictive text or word prediction, which can make communication faster and more efficient.

Who Can Benefit from an AAC Device?

AAC devices can be beneficial for individuals with a wide range of communication difficulties, including those with autism. AAC devices can be used to support communication in a variety of settings, including at home, at school, and in the community.

AAC devices can also be used to support a variety of communication functions, such as requesting, commenting, and socializing. AAC devices can help individuals with autism express their needs and wants, participate in social interactions, and engage in academic and vocational activities.

How to Choose an AAC Device?

Choosing an AAC device can be a complex process that involves assessing the individual's communication needs and abilities, as well as considering factors such as the device's features, cost, and portability.

It is important to work with a speech-language pathologist or other communication specialist to determine the most appropriate AAC device for the individual.

Types of AAC Devices for Individuals with Autism

There are various types of AAC devices available that can aid individuals with autism. Here are some examples:

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

PECS is a low-tech AAC system that uses pictures or symbols to communicate. It involves teaching the individual to exchange pictures or symbols to request or comment. PECS has been found to be particularly effective for individuals who have difficulty using speech.

Communication Books

Communication books are another type of low-tech AAC device that use pictures or symbols to represent words, phrases, or concepts. They are typically organized by category, such as food or activities, and can be customized to meet the individual's specific communication needs.

Tablets

Tablets can be used as high-tech AAC devices and offer a variety of apps that cater to individuals with different communication needs. Some popular apps include Proloquo2Go and TouchChat. Tablets also have the added benefit of being portable and easy to carry around.

Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs)

SGDs are high-tech AAC devices that use synthesized speech to produce spoken language. They can be operated through touchscreens, eye gaze tracking systems, or switches. SGDs come with a wide range of features such as word prediction and text-to-speech capabilities which make communication faster and more efficient.

It is important to note that different types of AAC devices may work better for different individuals depending on their specific communication needs and abilities. Working closely with a speech-language pathologist can help determine which type of device would work best for an individual with autism.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Low-Tech AAC Devices

Low-tech AAC devices, such as picture boards or communication books, have both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage of these devices is that they are often low cost and easy to create, making them accessible for many individuals with communication difficulties.

Another advantage is that they don't require any special training or technical expertise to use. Individuals can begin using low-tech AAC devices immediately without the need for extensive training.

However, one disadvantage of low-tech AAC devices is that they may not be as efficient or effective as high-tech AAC devices.

For example, it may take longer to find the appropriate picture or symbol in a communication book compared to selecting a word on a tablet.

Additionally, low-tech AAC devices may not provide enough vocabulary options for some individuals with more complex communication needs. In these cases, high-tech AAC devices may be more appropriate.

Overall, the choice between a low-tech and high-tech AAC device depends on the individual's specific communication needs and abilities. A speech-language pathologist can help determine which type of device would work best for an individual with autism.

Strategies for Introducing AAC Devices to Individuals with Autism

Introducing an AAC device to an individual with autism can be a complex process that requires careful planning and implementation. Here are some strategies that can help make the introduction of an AAC device a success:

1. Start Early

It is important to start introducing an AAC device as early as possible, preferably during infancy or toddlerhood. This allows the individual to become familiar with the device and develop communication skills over time.

2. Use Visual Supports

Visual supports such as picture schedules, social stories, and video modeling can be used to introduce the AAC device and its use in different contexts. These visual supports can help reduce anxiety and increase understanding of how the device works.

3. Model Communication

Modeling communication using the AAC device can help individuals with autism understand how to use it effectively. Caregivers or speech-language pathologists can model language using the AAC system, highlighting words or phrases that are relevant to the individual's needs and interests.

4. Provide Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement such as praise, rewards, or access to preferred activities or items can motivate individuals with autism to use the AAC device consistently. It is important to reinforce any attempts at communication, even if they are not successful at first.

5. Practice Patience

It may take time for individuals with autism to become comfortable using an AAC device. It is important for caregivers and speech-language pathologists to practice patience and provide support throughout the process.

By following these strategies, individuals with autism can successfully learn how to use an AAC device for communication purposes. It is important for caregivers and professionals involved in their care to work together in implementing these strategies in order for them to be effective.

Misconceptions about AAC Devices and Autism

Despite the benefits of AAC devices for individuals with autism, there are still some common misconceptions that may prevent individuals from using them. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions:

1. "Using an AAC device will prevent my child from learning to speak."

One of the biggest misconceptions about AAC devices is that they will prevent individuals with autism from learning to speak. However, research has shown that using an AAC device can actually support speech development by providing a means of communication and reducing frustration.

In fact, many individuals who use AAC devices eventually learn to use spoken language alongside their device. Additionally, using an AAC device does not mean that an individual cannot also receive speech therapy or other interventions to support speech development.

2. "AAC devices are only for nonverbal individuals with autism."

Another misconception about AAC devices is that they are only for individuals who are completely nonverbal. However, many individuals with autism may have difficulty with expressive language and benefit from the use of an AAC device.

AAC devices can be used as a supplement to spoken language or as a primary means of communication depending on the individual's needs and abilities.

3. "AAC devices are too expensive."

While some high-tech AAC devices can be expensive, there are also low-tech options available such as picture boards or communication books that can be made at home for little cost. Additionally, many insurance companies cover the cost of AAC devices when they are deemed medically necessary.

It is important not to let concerns about cost prevent individuals with autism from accessing the communication supports they need.

By addressing these common misconceptions about AAC devices and autism, we can help promote greater understanding and acceptance of these valuable tools for supporting communication in individuals with autism.

Conclusion

AAC devices can be a valuable tool for individuals with autism who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. AAC devices can help individuals with autism communicate effectively, participate in social interactions, and engage in academic and vocational activities.

By working with a communication specialist to choose the most appropriate AAC device, individuals with autism can improve their communication skills and enhance their quality of life.