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The Dynamic AAC World

By Virginia Cheng

Throughout my many years as a practising speech pathologist, advances in technology and clinical research have brought about an interesting and ever-changing pace within the scope of speech pathology. Individuals who are experiencing complex communication needs are now provided with a wide array of options in the form of AAC systems and strategies to support their communication skills. The widely reported benefits of having a successful and adaptable AAC system and strategies are well-known and numerous. I mean, who hasn’t heard or seen Stephen Hawking with his communication device? On the research front, individuals who have a working AAC system and strategies in place are reported to have an improved quality of life and improved personal-social well-being (Iacono, Lyons, Johnson, & West, 2012).

With this in mind, let’s explore the dynamic world of AAC.

Firstly, what is AAC?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. With talking being the standard, go-to method of communicating, AAC encapsulates all the different ways in which we can communicate. The term “augmentative” refers to strategies and techniques that supplement or support communication. The use of gestures, Key Word Sign, visual supports and facial expressions are some examples. The term “alternative” refers to using strategies, systems or techniques as another way to communicate. The use of speech-generating devices, communication apps and eye gaze devices are some examples of this.

Technology and Speech Pathology

Over time, there has been a gradual shift in the use and implementation of high-tech (i.e. electronic) AAC devices as an alternative means of communication. This has certainly been empowering, as it has provided individuals who have had limited to no functional speech throughout their lives the opportunity to have a voice and to make choices within all aspects of their daily life. Having a degree of autonomy makes a huge impact and it is incredibly rewarding to watch an individual implement their AAC system successfully, along with the smiles that come with it!

BUT how do we get to that point?

Implementing and using a successful AAC system and strategies takes time! It takes time to assess the individual, trial systems and strategies, adapt to different environments and evaluate suitability to name a few. The role of a speech pathologist in doing this is important, however, the role that the individual and their supports play is just as equally important. Keep in mind that “not one device fits all”. Individuals with complex communication needs have differing skills and strengths and what might work for one, might not be ideal for another. Speech pathologists take into account the AAC options that are available and are deemed suitable for an individual and embed this with the evidence-based practice framework during the intervention (Schlosser & Sigafoos, 2009). It is important to continue to have conversations and to feedback during intervention sessions because implementing a successful AAC system is not just one’s job, but a team effort.

Everyone has the potential to communicate and as speech pathologists, it is our role to explore a person’s communication abilities and preferences and the AAC options best suited to each individual and their environment.

The dynamic and ever-advancing world of AAC that we live in today is so exciting. People with communication disabilities should be empowered and supported to be heard. After all, communication is a basic human right.


Iacono, T., Lyon, K., Johnson, H., & West, D. (2012). Experiences of adults with complex communication needs using low tech systems: An Australian context. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 8, pp. 392-401.

Schlosser, R. W., & Sigafoos, J. (2009). Navigating evidence-based information sources in augmentative and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 25: 225-35.

Speech Pathology Australia (2020). Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinical Guideline. Melbourne: Speech Pathology Australia.

About the author

Virginia is the Speech Pathology Clinical Excellence Lead at KEO Care. Her speech pathology journey started off in private practice before moving into specific clinical areas of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. She has worked with individuals across the lifespan from young paediatrics to adults in all areas of communication. Her previous role prior to KEO Care was in a multidisciplinary hospital setting providing speech pathology input in the areas of mental health and intellectual disability combined.