Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Text taken from Other Ways of Speaking booklet, published by The Communication Trust 2011

Boy and computer screen


Being able to communicate is the most important skill we need in life. Almost everything a child does involves communication – everyday tasks such as learning at school, sorting out problems, making friends and having fun all rely on their ability to communicate with each other.

It is estimated that 10% of children and young people in the UK have long-term or persistent difficulties with speech, language and communication. Of these children, 1% have the most severe difficulties and struggle to express their most basic needs.

Some children and young people need additional help if they are to have any effective communication. A common term that’s used when defining this additional help is 'Augmentative and Alternative Communication'.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication – also known as AAC – describes a wide range of techniques children and young people can use to support spoken communication. These include gesture, signing, symbols, word boards, communication boards and books, as well as Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs).

For children and young people who rely on using different methods of communication, AAC can have a dramatic impact on their lives. It can enable them to:

  • express their feelings
  • ask questions and say what they need
  • feel good about themselves
  • develop relationships with their family and friends
  • participate in school, work and play
  • be involved in decisions about their future
  • live an independent life
  • gain employment
For a lot of children and young people it allows them to live their lives to the full and have the same life opportunities as any other person.

Extra information

There are lots of types of AAC systems. Each has advantages and disadvantages and the most suitable one for a child or young person will depend on their abilities and needs, as well as their personal preference.

Specialist assessment will help to identify the most appropriate AAC system or systems.

If you would like to read more information about AAC, please see the ‘Other Ways of Speaking’ booklet, which is free to download from The Communications Trust website.

How to make a magic moment

Create a magic moment with your child by doing an activity together using any form of communication except speech. You could, for instance, bake a cake, do a puzzle or play a game. Use gestures, signing, pictures and anything else you can think of to make the learning experience fun.

How CBeebies can help

Have you seen Something Special featuring presenter Justin Fletcher and sidekick Mr Tumble? Why not watch an episode with your child and see how Justin communicates using body language, signing and symbols.

You could also take a look at the Something Special web pages on the CBeebies website. There are lots of printable sheets which are a great way for your child to learn the Makaton signs for key words.

Each word is written out and also represented by a photo, picture and sign image. And there are also Something Special games, songs, video clips and stories, a recipe for a Mr Tumble cake and printable colouring-in sheets for your child to enjoy.

Print this article

Want more fun?

See all fun activities

Top tips

  • Tips for making communication successful: Choose a quiet place so you can both
  • concentrate on the conversation.Face the person you are talking to and make
  • eye contact. Ask them to show you how they use their AAC
  • system to help you understand what (if anything) you need to do to make
  • communication successful.Establish how they communicate ‘yes’ and
  • ‘no’. This may not always be the obvious nod and shake of the head.When you ask a question wait for a
  • reply. Be patient. If you are tempted to finish off the
  • person’s sentence for them, ask if the other person is happy for you to do
  • this.Be honest about how much you have understood.
  • This will give the other person the opportunity to explain points that have not
  • been understood, or ask for support.Check back and recap.  

Expert opinion

The needs of children and young people who have difficulties speaking must be identified at an early age to ensure they receive the best support as they face the challenges of learning to communicate.

Ensure each child or young person has a detailed assessment. 

Text taken from 'Other Ways of Speaking', published by The Communication Trust (2011)