Part 1: Common AAC Systems

Everyone deserves to have a voice. That fact is one of the many overarching convictions that speech language pathologists take fully to heart when they begin their careers. Unfortunately, many of the clients that walk into our doors cannot share their ideas with their own natural voice and must rely on other ways to communicate to make their thoughts and ideas known. This is where AAC comes into play.

AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication. It is described by the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) as “all of the ways

we share our ideas and feelings without talking.”1 This description of AAC shows us that it encompasses many types of alternative communication, even gestures! While there are many for

ms of alternative communication, this post is going to talk about two of the more common AAC systems that are commonly implemented in order to help individuals struggling to communicate.


Picture communication boards/books

  • Picture communication boards are relatively easy to implement AAC options for a variety of individuals. They are considered a “low-tech” AAC option as they do not require a power source to use. The general idea of picture communication book is to use a variety of photos (these can be icons/symbols or realistic pictures) that an individual points to or gives to a communication partner to make requests, communicate various thoughts/ideas, label, etc. A very popular picture-based communication board system is PECs, which stands for picture exchange communication system.2 PECs is a standardized method of using communication boards that includes an evidenced based approach to teaching the system. In general, picture communication books/boards are low cost and easy to use for many individuals. Some drawbacks to using these types of systems are trying to organize and keep track of the small pictures that are used and the generally limited vocabulary options. Even with these cons,  however, picture exchange books and communication boards are a relatively simple and cost effective ways to give an individual a means by which to communicate their wants and needs more effectively.

Dynamic display communication devices (iPads, tablets, etc.)

  • Dynamic display devices are electronic screen-based systems that are typically programmed with an AAC application (e.g. Proloquo2Go, TouchChat, LAMP, etc.). These devices are considered to be “high-tech” systems because they rely on a power source to work. Individuals interact with these AAC systems by touching icons on the screen (like they would a smart phone) which then results in the system “speaking” the word that was selected. These systems have a lot of vocabulary words programmed into them and are easily editable. Dynamic display systems are common and you might have seen some of our clients in the clinic using them in the waiting room. While these devices have a lot of pros to using them, some cons can include cost (most of these systems are very expensive), fragility (many an iPad has met its end by being dropped on the floor), and difficulty with programming all of the vocabulary options. Despite these drawbacks, dynamic screen systems are exceedingly popular and great options for many individuals.

Regardless of the system an individual might use to communicate, the most important thing to keep in mind when placing ANY AAC system is to use it consistently! Too often, AAC systems get placed and do not get used. No matter if you are using a simple PECs book or a high-tech iPad with Proloquo2Go, make sure you are taking that system with you everywhere and having your AAC user consistently use it throughout their day.

Jillian Kerstetter, M.S. CCC-SLP ATACP
Jillian Kerstetter