What is an AAC Device for Autism?

Many people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with verbal communication, which can make it difficult to express themselves, share their thoughts and feelings, and interact with others. Fortunately, there is a solution: an AAC device.

Alan Hollander
December 3, 2023

What is an AAC Device for Autism?

Many people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with verbal communication, which can make it difficult to express themselves, share their thoughts and feelings, and interact with others. Fortunately, there is a solution: an AAC device.

What is an AAC Device?

AAC stands for "augmentative and alternative communication." AAC is an umbrella term that refers to any tool or device that helps people with communication disorders communicate more effectively. AAC devices can be low-tech, such as a picture board or book, or high-tech, such as a tablet or computer program. They can be used to supplement or replace speech, depending on the individual's needs.

For people with autism, AAC devices can be especially helpful. Many people with autism struggle with verbal communication, but they may be able to communicate more effectively using pictures, symbols, or written words. AAC devices can help them do so, and as a result, can improve their quality of life and their ability to connect with others.

There are many different types of AAC devices available, and it's important to find the one that is right for each individual. Some people may benefit from a simple picture board, while others may need a more complex computer program. AAC devices can be customized to meet the specific needs of each user, and can be used in a variety of settings, from the classroom to the workplace.

If you or someone you know could benefit from an AAC device, it's important to talk to a speech-language pathologist or other healthcare professional. They can help you determine which type of device is right for you, and can provide training and support to help you get the most out of your device.

girl operating tablet computer

How Does an AAC Device Work?

AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices provide a way for people who have difficulty communicating verbally to express themselves. These devices work by providing a visual or auditory cue that represents a word or phrase. For example, if a person wants to say "I'm hungry," they may press a button on their AAC device that plays a pre-recorded audio clip of someone saying "I'm hungry." Alternatively, they may select a picture or symbol that represents the concept of hunger.

AAC devices can be customized to meet the needs of each individual user. For example, some people with autism may benefit from using a picture board with a few basic symbols, while others may prefer a high-tech tablet with a wide range of options. AAC devices can also be programmed to provide different levels of support, depending on the user's needs. Some devices may offer basic communication options, while others may include advanced features like predictive text or the ability to control other devices.

The use of AAC devices has become increasingly common in recent years, as more people recognize the importance of ensuring that everyone has a way to communicate. In fact, there are now a wide range of AAC devices available, from simple picture boards to high-tech tablets with advanced features.

Benefits of Using an AAC Device for Autism

There are many benefits to using an AAC device for autism. First and foremost, it can help people with autism communicate more effectively. This can lead to improved social interactions, better relationships with family and friends, and increased independence.

In addition, using an AAC device can help people with autism:

  • Express themselves more clearly and effectively
  • Reduce frustration and anxiety related to communication
  • Improve their ability to participate in activities and events
  • Increase their confidence and self-esteem

Types of AAC Devices

There are various types of AAC devices available in the market, ranging from low-tech to high-tech devices. Low-tech AAC devices include simple picture boards, communication books, or charts that use pictures and symbols to convey messages. These devices are easy to use and do not require any technical skills.

On the other hand, high-tech AAC devices are more complex and require some technical knowledge. They can be customized according to the user's needs and provide a range of features such as text-to-speech software, predictive text, eye-tracking technology, and switch scanning. Some examples of high-tech AAC devices include tablets or smartphones with communication apps, speech-generating devices (SGDs), and dedicated communication devices.

It is important to choose an AAC device based on an individual's needs and abilities. A speech-language pathologist or other healthcare professional can help determine which type of device is best suited for each person.

How to Select the Right AAC Device for a Person with Autism?

Choosing the right AAC device for a person with autism is crucial to ensure effective communication. Here are some factors that need to be considered before selecting an AAC device:

Individual Needs

Each individual has unique communication needs, and it's important to choose an AAC device that addresses those needs. For example, if a person is comfortable using technology, they may benefit from a high-tech device with advanced features. On the other hand, someone who prefers simple tools may find a low-tech picture board more useful.

Communication Goals

It's important to identify the communication goals of the person with autism before selecting an AAC device. Some people may want to use their device primarily for social interactions, while others may need it for academic or vocational purposes. Identifying these goals can help determine which type of device will be most effective.


The ease of use of an AAC device is also an important consideration. A complex device with many features may not be helpful if it's difficult for the user to navigate. It's essential to choose a device that is user-friendly and easy to operate.


AAC devices can vary greatly in price, and it's important to consider cost when choosing a device. While high-tech devices can provide many benefits, they can also be expensive. Low-tech options such as picture boards or communication books can be more affordable but may not offer as many features.

Consultation with Professionals

Consulting with professionals such as speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists can help in selecting the right AAC device. These professionals have experience working with people with autism and can provide valuable insights into which type of device would be most beneficial based on individual needs and abilities.

By considering these factors, individuals with autism and their families can select an AAC device that best suits their unique needs and helps them communicate effectively in all aspects of life.

The Importance of Training and Support

While AAC devices can be incredibly helpful for people with autism, it's important to remember that they require training and support to use effectively. Learning how to use an AAC device can take time, and it's essential that the user receives the proper training and support to ensure success.

Speech-language pathologists or other healthcare professionals can provide training on how to use an AAC device effectively. They can also help customize the device to meet the user's specific needs and abilities. Additionally, ongoing support is important to ensure that the user continues to make progress and gets the most out of their device.

In some cases, family members or caregivers may also need training on how to use the device so they can support the user in their daily life. This is especially true for children who may need assistance from adults in using their AAC device.

By providing proper training and ongoing support, individuals with autism can learn how to use their AAC device effectively and communicate more successfully in all aspects of life.

Strategies for Incorporating the Use of AAC Devices into Daily Life

Incorporating the use of AAC devices into daily life can be a challenge, but there are several strategies that can help make it easier. Here are some tips for incorporating the use of AAC devices into daily life:

  • Start small: Begin by using the device for short periods of time each day, and gradually increase usage as the user becomes more comfortable with it.
  • Practice regularly: Regular practice is essential for effective use of an AAC device. Encourage the user to practice using their device in a variety of settings and situations.
  • Set goals: Setting specific communication goals can help motivate the user to use their device more frequently. Celebrate progress towards these goals to maintain momentum.
  • Involve others: Encourage family members, teachers, and caregivers to also use the AAC device when communicating with the user. This will help reinforce its importance and normalize its use.
  • Be patient: Learning how to effectively communicate using an AAC device takes time and patience. Encourage the user to take their time and not get discouraged if progress is slow.

By incorporating these strategies into daily life, individuals with autism can become more comfortable using their AAC device and experience improved communication skills in all aspects of life.

Common Misconceptions About Using AAC Devices for Autism

Despite the many benefits of using AAC devices for autism, there are still some common misconceptions that can prevent people from using them effectively. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions:

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

This is a common concern among parents, but it's important to remember that using an AAC device does not mean giving up on verbal communication. In fact, many people with autism who use AAC devices also continue to work on their verbal communication skills with the help of speech-language pathologists and other professionals.

Additionally, research has shown that using AAC devices can actually improve speech development in some cases. By providing a way for individuals with autism to communicate more effectively, they may be less frustrated and more motivated to continue working on their verbal communication skills.

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

While AAC devices can be incredibly helpful for nonverbal individuals with autism, they can also be useful for those who struggle with verbal communication. Even individuals who have some verbal abilities may benefit from using an AAC device in certain situations, such as when communicating in noisy or stressful environments.

"AAC devices are too expensive and not covered by insurance."

While some high-tech AAC devices can be expensive, there are also many low-cost options available. Additionally, many insurance plans do cover the cost of AAC devices if they are deemed medically necessary.

"Using an AAC device is too complicated and time-consuming."

While it's true that learning how to use an AAC device effectively takes time and practice, the benefits can be significant. With proper training and support, individuals with autism can learn how to use their device quickly and easily.

It's important to remember that every individual with autism is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. By understanding these common misconceptions about AAC devices and working with healthcare professionals to choose the right device and provide proper training and support, individuals with autism can improve their communication skills and enhance their quality of life.

AAC Technology and Autism

As technology continues to advance, the future of AAC devices looks promising. There are already exciting developments in the field that have the potential to revolutionize communication for people with autism.

One area of development is in the field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). BCIs use electrodes placed on the scalp or implanted directly in the brain to translate brain activity into computer commands. This technology has already been used successfully to help people with paralysis control computers and other devices, and there is potential for it to be used in AAC devices as well.

Another area of development is in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve AAC devices. AI algorithms can be trained to recognize patterns in a person's communication and suggest appropriate responses. This could help individuals with autism communicate more effectively by providing them with real-time support and feedback.

Finally, there is also potential for AAC devices to become more integrated into everyday life through the use of wearable technology. For example, a smartwatch could be used as an AAC device, allowing users to communicate discreetly and easily while on-the-go.

As these technologies continue to develop, they have the potential to significantly improve communication outcomes for people with autism and enhance their ability to participate fully in all aspects of life.


What is an AAC device?

An augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device is any tool or strategy used to supplement or replace speech or writing for individuals with communication disorders. This can include low-tech options such as picture boards, as well as high-tech devices such as tablets or speech-generating devices.

How does an AAC device work?

The specific functionality of an AAC device will depend on the type of device being used. Low-tech options typically involve pointing to pictures or symbols on a board to convey messages, while high-tech options may use text-to-speech software, eye-tracking technology, switch scanning, and other advanced features.

Who can benefit from using an AAC device?

Anyone with a communication disorder that affects their ability to speak or write clearly may benefit from using an AAC device. This includes individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, stroke survivors, and more.

How do I know which type of AAC device is right for me/my loved one?

Choosing the right AAC device depends on individual needs and abilities. Working with a speech-language pathologist or other healthcare professional can help determine which type of device will be most effective based on factors such as communication goals, user-friendliness, cost, and more.

Are there any risks associated with using an AAC device?

There are typically no risks associated with using an AAC device. However, it is important to receive proper training and ongoing support to ensure effective use of the device. In rare cases where a person experiences frustration or discomfort when using a particular type of device, alternative options should be explored.

By understanding the basics of what an AAC device is and how it can be beneficial for individuals with autism and other communication disorders, individuals and their families can make informed decisions about incorporating this technology into their daily lives.


If you or someone you know has autism and struggles with verbal communication, an AAC device may be a helpful tool. AAC devices can provide a way to communicate more effectively, express oneself more clearly, and improve overall quality of life. Whether you opt for a low-tech or high-tech AAC device, the benefits can be life-changing.