Getting Started

Below are a few questions you may want to ask when considering AAC:

  • Does the individual have difficulty expressing their wants, needs or thoughts in one or more environments?
  • Does the individual have difficulty having basic needs met?
  • Does the individual become frustrated or give up when attempting to communicate?
  • Does the individual understand more than they are able to express?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then this individual might be a good candidate for AAC intervention.  


Who can use AAC?

It is estimated that 2 million people in the United States have a severe communication disorder and would benefit from AAC. (

Any person who cannot meet daily communication needs is a candidate. This might include an individual who has:

  • A developmental disability (e.g. autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome)
  • An acquired disability (e.g. Stroke, brain injury)
  • A degenerative condition (e.g. ALS, Parkinson’s, MS)
  • A need for supplemented speech (e.g. semi-intelligible speech, laryngectomy)
  • A need for temporary speech until normal speech returns (e.g. tracheostomy, mechanical ventilation).

The inability to use speech to communicate can affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds. There is no “typical” type of person who must rely on AAC. However, these individuals share a common characteristic: they need adaptations for communicating face-to-face (using speech) or at a distance (using text).

Learn more about the different types of conditions AAC can help support. 

How can AAC help?

AAC can help individuals who are unable to communicate express their wants, needs, and anything else they would like to articulate with those around them.

Here are a few areas where AAC can be of help:

What are the different types of AAC?

AAC is often characterized as either no-techlow-tech, or high-tech.

  • No-tech AAC includes any method of nonverbal communication to share a message. This can include gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, or body language. We use no-tech AAC strategies everyday.

    Examples: Holly is a 12-year-old-girl with Down syndrome who uses both natural speech and no-tech AAC to communicate. She gets her friend’s attention on the soccer field by waving her hand.
    Sam is a 32-year-old-man with Autism who is employed at a local supermarket. He uses natural speech to communicate, but also uses facial expressions to let his coworkers know he is happy.
  • Low-tech AAC strategies might include communication books and boards. Communication books and boards often include symbols that represent people, places, and things.

    Examples: Joey is a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He does not use his natural speech to communicate. At school, Joey’s teacher uses Boardmaker to make communication boards so that he will always have a way to participate in the classroom.
    Mary is 67 years old and has dementia. She can still use her natural speech, but often uses a communication board with pictures of her family and friends as a reminder.
  • High-tech AAC are devices that require a charge and have voice output capabilities. Some high-tech communication systems resemble familiar equipment such as mobile devices, tablets and laptops, while others use equipment specially designed to support communication.

    Helen was 72 when she was diagnosed with ALS. With her Tobii Dynavox I-Series Helen can use her eyes to read stories to her grandchildren, joke with them and make memories that will last forever.
    Jason is 12 and was born with cerebral palsy. To speak, he uses a Tobii Dynavox I-110. He also uses his device to access the internet and go on social media. 

Discover more information on different types of high-tech AAC devices.  

What are Access Methods?

People using AAC might use their hand to touch a symbol on a communication board or use a joystick or switch to select a message on a communication device. These are called “selection methods” or “access methods.” 

It is important to choose the access method that best meets the user’s needs.

Read this overview of access methods and use the links below to learn more about each one:

When and where can an individual use AAC?

AAC can be used all day long in any environment. AAC not only helps individuals communicate their messages, but also gives them visual information that can increase their understanding of the situation. For example, showing a communication page with pictures of clothing items, dressing actions and colors might help them better understand the process of getting dressed and allow them to actively participate in the activity (e.g. make choices, comment, etc.).

While an individual may have ways to communicate basic wants and needs, having access to an AAC device will allow them to expand their thoughts and communicate things that they might not be able to say on their own.

Example: Kristie is 15 years old. She can speak a few single words, but is not able to put words together to communicate more complete thoughts. Kristie seems to understand a lot of what is going on around her but is not able to communicate what she is thinking. Kristie uses Snap Core First on her Tobii Dynavox Indi device to expand her thoughts where her current speech and language skills would not allow. Kristie’s reading and writing skills have increased because she now has access to keyboards, core words, and word lists. She is also starting to interact more with her peers using social vocabulary.

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