What Is An AAC Device For Autism?

When it comes to supporting individuals with autism in their communication, AAC devices play a crucial role. AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and these devices are designed to assist individuals who have difficulty with speech or language. Let's explore what exactly an AAC device is and why it is important for individuals with autism.

What is an AAC Device?

An AAC device is any tool or system that helps individuals with communication difficulties express themselves. These devices can range from low-tech options, such as picture cards, to high-tech electronic devices that generate speech. AAC devices provide a means of communication for individuals who may have limited verbal skills or struggle with expressive language.

AAC devices are designed to supplement or replace speech, depending on the individual's needs. They offer various methods for communication, including visual symbols, sign language, or synthesized speech. By using AAC devices, individuals with autism can effectively convey their thoughts, needs, and desires to others.

Importance of AAC for Individuals with Autism

For individuals with autism, communication can be a significant challenge. Many individuals with autism experience difficulties with spoken language, such as limited vocabulary, difficulty forming sentences, or trouble with social interactions. This can lead to frustration and hinder their ability to express themselves effectively.

AAC devices provide a bridge for individuals with autism to overcome these communication barriers. By using AAC devices, individuals with autism can express their thoughts, emotions, and needs more easily and effectively. This not only enhances their ability to interact and engage with others but also promotes their overall social and emotional well-being.

Research has shown that the use of AAC devices can improve communication skills, increase independence, and enhance overall quality of life for individuals with autism. It can help them participate more fully in everyday activities, interact with their peers, and develop meaningful connections with others.

By understanding the importance of AAC devices and the impact they can have on individuals with autism, parents and caregivers can make informed decisions about incorporating these devices into their loved one's communication strategies. It is essential to explore the different types of AAC devices available to find the one that best suits the individual's needs and abilities.

Types of AAC Devices

When it comes to communication devices for individuals with autism, there are several types of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices available. Each type has its own unique features and benefits. In this section, we will explore three common types of AAC devices: Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Apps, and Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs).

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely used AAC method for individuals with autism. PECS utilizes a system of pictures or symbols to aid in communication. Here's an overview of how PECS works:

  • The individual is taught to exchange a picture or symbol card with a communication partner to make a request or convey a message.
  • The communication partner honors the request or responds to the message, reinforcing the individual's communication efforts.
  • Over time, the individual learns to use the PECS system to express their needs, wants, and thoughts.

PECS offers several benefits, including promoting communication independence, reducing frustration, and enhancing social interaction. However, it's important to note that PECS may have limitations for individuals with more complex communication needs.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Apps

AAC Apps are software applications that can be installed on tablets or smartphones to support communication for individuals with autism. These apps offer a wide range of features and functionalities to enhance communication. Here's an overview of AAC Apps:

  • AAC Apps provide a customizable interface that allows users to select and display symbols, pictures, or text-based communication options.
  • They often include voice output capabilities, enabling individuals to have their messages spoken aloud.
  • Some AAC Apps also offer additional features like predictive text, message storage, and social stories to support various communication needs.

AAC Apps provide flexibility and portability, making them accessible in various settings. They can be personalized to meet the individual's specific communication requirements. However, it's important to consider factors such as device compatibility, user interface, and ongoing support when selecting an AAC App.

Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs)

Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs) are specialized AAC devices that generate digitized or synthesized speech to facilitate communication. SGDs range from handheld devices to dedicated communication devices with larger screens. Here's an overview of SGDs:

  • SGDs consist of a display screen or a keyboard that allows individuals to select words, phrases, or sentences to be spoken aloud.
  • They may utilize text-based or symbol-based communication systems, depending on the individual's abilities and preferences.
  • SGDs often offer features like word prediction, customizable layouts, and access methods (e.g., touch, switch, eye gaze).

SGDs can be beneficial for individuals with limited or no speech abilities, providing them with a voice to express their thoughts and needs. These devices can be highly customizable and may require professional guidance for setup and training.

By understanding the different types of AAC devices available, parents of children with autism can make informed decisions when selecting the most suitable device for their child's communication needs. It's important to consider the individual's abilities, preferences, and ongoing support requirements when choosing an AAC device.

PECS: Picture Exchange Communication System

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely used method of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for individuals with autism. PECS utilizes visual symbols to help individuals communicate their needs, wants, and thoughts. This section will explore how PECS works and discuss the benefits and limitations of this AAC approach.

How PECS Works?

PECS involves a systematic approach to communication using pictures. Here's a simplified explanation of how PECS works:

  • Initiation: The individual is taught to initiate communication by handing a picture symbol, known as an "icon," to a communication partner.
  • Exchange: The communication partner responds to the individual by honoring their request or acknowledging their communication. The partner may provide the desired item or perform the requested action.
  • Expansion: Over time, the individual is encouraged to expand their communication skills by requesting more complex items or actions. They may also learn to form simple sentences using a sequence of picture symbols.
  • Generalization: As the individual becomes more proficient with PECS, they are encouraged to use the system in various environments and with different communication partners.

PECS typically begins with simple requests and gradually progresses to more complex communication, allowing individuals to develop their expressive language skills.

Benefits and Limitations of PECS

PECS offers several benefits for individuals with autism:

Benefits of PECS

  • Facilitates communication initiation
  • Can be customized to individual needs
  • Enhances receptive and expressive language skills
  • Promotes independence and self-advocacy
  • Enhances social interaction and engagement

Despite its advantages, PECS also has some limitations:

Limitations of PECS

  • Requires consistent implementation and training
  • May take time for individuals to become proficient
  • Limited to the use of picture symbols
  • May not be suitable for individuals with severe motor impairments
  • May require additional support for generalization to different environments

It's important to note that PECS may not be the most suitable AAC option for every individual with autism. Each person's communication needs and abilities should be carefully assessed to determine the most effective AAC approach for them.

In the next sections, we will explore other types of AAC devices, such as AAC apps and speech-generating devices (SGDs), which offer alternative options for individuals with autism to communicate effectively.

AAC Apps

When it comes to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices for individuals with autism, AAC apps are becoming increasingly popular and accessible. These apps offer a portable and versatile solution for communication needs. Let's take a closer look at the overview, features, and benefits of AAC apps.

Overview of AAC Apps

AAC apps are software applications designed for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. These apps provide individuals with autism a means to express themselves, communicate their needs, and engage in social interactions. AAC apps utilize symbols, pictures, or text-to-speech technology to facilitate communication.

One of the key advantages of AAC apps is their portability. With AAC apps installed on a mobile device, individuals with autism can carry their communication tool wherever they go, promoting independence and reducing communication barriers. AAC apps also offer a customizable experience, allowing users to personalize their communication system based on their unique needs and preferences.

Features and Benefits of AAC Apps

AAC apps offer a range of features that enhance communication for individuals with autism. Some common features include:

  • Symbol Libraries: AAC apps typically come with a wide range of symbols and pictures that represent various words, phrases, and concepts. These symbols aid in visual communication and support language development.
  • Text-to-Speech: Many AAC apps incorporate text-to-speech functionality, which converts typed or selected text into spoken words. This feature enables non-verbal individuals to express themselves verbally and participate in conversations.
  • Visual Supports: AAC apps often include visual supports such as visual schedules and timers, which help individuals with autism understand and navigate daily routines more effectively.
  • Customization Options: AAC apps allow users to customize their communication system by adding personalized symbols, photos, or recorded voice messages. This flexibility ensures that the AAC app aligns with the individual's specific communication needs.
  • Data Tracking: Some AAC apps offer data tracking capabilities, allowing caregivers and therapists to monitor usage patterns and track progress in language development.

AAC apps provide several benefits for individuals with autism, including:

  • Improved Communication: AAC apps enable individuals with autism to express themselves, share their thoughts, and engage in social interactions more effectively.
  • Vocabulary Expansion: By utilizing symbols and visual supports, AAC apps can support language development and expand individuals' vocabulary.
  • Enhanced Independence: AAC apps empower individuals with autism to communicate independently, reducing frustration and increasing their overall autonomy.
  • Increased Social Participation: With AAC apps, individuals with autism can actively participate in conversations, social activities, and educational settings, fostering greater inclusion and engagement.
  • Flexibility and Convenience: AAC apps offer the convenience of portability and the flexibility to adapt to different communication settings and environments.

AAC apps are just one of the options available in the realm of AAC devices for individuals with autism. Understanding the features and benefits of AAC apps can help parents and caregivers make informed decisions when selecting the most suitable communication tool for their loved ones.

SGDs: Speech-Generating Devices

How SGDs Work?

Speech-Generating Devices (SGDs) are powerful tools that facilitate communication for individuals with autism. These devices are designed to give a voice to those who have difficulty speaking or expressing themselves verbally. SGDs use a combination of technology and pre-programmed messages to enable individuals to communicate their thoughts, needs, and desires effectively.

SGDs typically consist of a screen or display that shows a range of symbols, pictures, or words. The user can select these symbols or words by touching the screen or using other access methods, such as switches or eye-tracking technology. Once the user makes a selection, the device generates synthesized speech or plays pre-recorded messages to convey their intended message.

These devices often have customizable features, allowing users to personalize the communication experience. They can create and save their own messages or use pre-programmed vocabulary sets for more efficient communication. Some SGDs also offer additional features like social stories, visual schedules, and interactive games to enhance engagement and learning.

Advantages and Considerations of SGDs

SGDs offer several advantages that make them valuable tools for individuals with autism:

  • Enhanced communication: SGDs provide individuals with autism a means to express themselves, share their thoughts, and engage in meaningful conversations. They offer a voice to those who may struggle with spoken language, enabling them to connect with others and participate more fully in social interactions.
  • Increased independence: Using an SGD empowers individuals with autism to communicate independently, reducing their reliance on others for expressive communication. This newfound independence can lead to improved self-confidence and a greater sense of autonomy.
  • Language development: SGDs can also support language development by offering visual cues and reinforcing the connection between symbols and words. Through repeated exposure to the symbols and corresponding speech output, individuals can strengthen their understanding and use of language.

When considering the use of SGDs for individuals with autism, it is important to take certain considerations into account:

  • Individual needs: Each person with autism has unique communication requirements. It is crucial to select an SGD that aligns with the individual's abilities, preferences, and communication goals. Consulting with speech-language pathologists and other professionals can help determine the most suitable device.
  • Training and support: Proper training and ongoing support are essential for successful use of SGDs. Individuals, caregivers, and communication partners should receive training on how to operate the device and effectively facilitate communication. Regular follow-up and troubleshooting support can ensure the continued success of SGD implementation.
  • Environmental factors: The surrounding environment and context play a role in the effective use of SGDs. Consideration should be given to factors such as background noise, lighting conditions, and the need for communication partners to be familiar with the device and its functionality.

SGDs have revolutionized communication for individuals with autism, enabling them to express themselves and participate in various aspects of life. By understanding how these devices work and considering the advantages and considerations, parents and caregivers can make informed decisions about incorporating SGDs into their loved one's communication toolkit.

Choosing the Right AAC Device

When it comes to selecting the appropriate AAC device for individuals with autism, there are several factors to consider. It's important to take into account the specific needs and abilities of the individual to ensure that the device aligns with their communication goals and preferences. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing an AAC device:

Factors to Consider

Factor Description
Communication Needs Evaluate the individual's communication abilities, including their current communication methods and challenges. Consider whether they require a device that supports text, symbols, or both.
Motor Skills Assess the individual's motor skills, including their ability to operate physical buttons, touch screens, or other input methods. This will help determine the most suitable device interface.
Language and Vocabulary Consider the individual's language level and vocabulary requirements. Some AAC devices offer pre-programmed vocabulary sets, while others allow for customization based on individual needs.
Portability Determine whether the AAC device needs to be portable, as this may impact the size and weight considerations. Portable devices can be beneficial for communication outside of specific settings, such as school or home.
Technical Support Assess the availability of technical support and training for the chosen AAC device. This ensures that the individual and their support network can effectively utilize and troubleshoot the device.
Cost Consider the financial implications associated with the AAC device, including the initial purchase cost, ongoing maintenance, and potential insurance coverage. It's essential to find a device that provides value for money while meeting the individual's communication needs.

Consulting with Professionals

Consulting with professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and assistive technology specialists, can greatly assist in the process of selecting the right AAC device for individuals with autism. These professionals have the expertise to assess the individual's needs, provide recommendations, and offer guidance on device implementation and training.

A comprehensive assessment by professionals will involve evaluating the individual's communication skills, motor abilities, and specific requirements. They can then provide informed recommendations based on their expertise and knowledge of available AAC devices. Working collaboratively with professionals ensures that the chosen AAC device is tailored to the individual's unique needs, maximizing its effectiveness in supporting their communication.

Remember, choosing the right AAC device is a collaborative effort that involves considering various factors and seeking guidance from professionals. By taking these steps, parents and caregivers can make an informed decision and provide individuals with autism the opportunity to effectively communicate and express themselves.


Who can benefit from using an AAC device?

Anyone who has difficulty speaking or understanding language can benefit from using an AAC device. This includes people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other conditions that affect communication.

What are some common types of AAC devices?

There are many different types of AAC devices available, ranging from low-tech options like picture boards and communication books to high-tech options like speech-generating devices and communication apps.

How do I know if an AAC device is right for me or my loved one with autism?

If you or your loved one with autism has difficulty communicating verbally or understanding language, an AAC device may be helpful. Talk to a speech-language pathologist or other healthcare professional who specializes in communication disorders to determine if an AAC device is right for you.

Can children with autism use AAC devices?

Yes, children with autism can use AAC devices. In fact, early intervention with AAC devices has been shown to improve language development and overall communication skills in young children with autism.

Are there any downsides to using an AAC device?

While there are many benefits to using an AAC device, it's important to note that it may not work for everyone. Some people may find it difficult to learn how to use the device, or they may prefer other methods of communication. It's also worth noting that some insurance companies may not cover the cost of an AAC device, which can be expensive.


In conclusion, an AAC device is a powerful tool for people with autism who have difficulty communicating. It provides a way to express themselves and connect with others, even if they can't use words. If you know someone with autism who could benefit from an AAC device, talk to their healthcare provider or therapist to learn more. With the right tools and support, people with autism can achieve their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.