Skip to content

Your web browser is out of date.

We no longer support your browser. Please open our website in another browser, e.g. Google Chrome

The Ace Centre logo

A brush strokeAce Centre blog

AAC Awareness Month – 31 Tips for 31 Days

  1. #AACaware21.  Lets start with definitions! AAC is “Augmentative & Alternative Communication” and It is all about providing strategies and communication aids that support or replace someone’s speech when they can’t rely upon it to communicate.Communication aids that ‘talk’ are sometimes called Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs) or Speech Output Devices. So Tip 1 of 31: It’s not all about the fancy tech! A piece of paper with some key words on it or photos, signing, looking away – they can all be forms of AAC.  Want to find out more? 

  2. Tip 2 is all about spelling!  Know someone who has no voice, can spell and needs a way of communicating? Try a spelling board! Its really easy! No printer? No problem – just write one out! Part two of this tip is to help keep an eye on what is being said grab a pen and paper and write it down. You’ll be surprised how hard it is to keep a track of what someone is saying. And show the person who is spelling – its hard for them too!  How-to use and make your own: Some example Charts:

  3. Wait. Don’t you just hate it when people cut in on your sentences? When talking with someone who uses AAC ask open questions and just wait. If you are the sort of person who hates silent pauses in conversation you are going to find it very hard! But be respectful of the other person and their method of communication.

  4. Communication needs to be quick! Spoken language often has more errors than written communication so using AAC should be no different. When using AAC the message doesn’t have to be spelt correctly, or with the correct grammar and punctuation. Start with asking a person who uses AAC to give you one keyword and build from there.

  5. BRB! Abbreviation Expansion or letter coding can speed communication as the individual only has to put two or three letters in to create a phrase e.g. brb=be right back. Abbreviation Expansion is the term for high tech devices and letter coding refers to the same process on paper-based board, so you rely on the communication partner using the chart of words to expand it. The only issue is remembering all your codes. See here for some examples codes:

  6. Remember that feeling at school when the teacher read out loud the note you were passing to a friend? Or that feeling when your brother/sister read your private diary?! Gah! It can be the same for people who use AAC. Always ask if you can look at their screen whilst they are composing their message.

  7. Working with someone with limited speech who has difficulty getting themselves understood? A remnant book (sometimes called memento or scrap book) of what they have been up to (bus/cinema tickets, sweet wrappers, photos) can provide a great topic to cue others in to the context of their conversation
  8. I have something to say! Teach & provide ways for people who use AAC to do more than request or respond to questions. Give people a means to initiate a conversation and make it meaningful “hey can I talk to you a minute?”
  9. If you don’t know someone & how they say yes/no then don’t be afraid to ask “please can you show me how you say yes with your body so we can chat better ” – it can feel a bit of an awkward thing to ask but far better than getting it wrong and misunderstanding them.
  10. Working with someone who is having difficulty accessing their tablet/computer/chart? Before you look at fancy solutions just try and position it – or the person differently. Positioning and Posture are key to efficient communication. A beanbag, tray, wrist support – as well as a stylus can all help!
  11. “Where would you find it?” When working with someone who has difficulty with finding or thinking of the right word ask them for words/topics around the subject. “Where would you find it?”, “What does it look like?”, “What’s it similar to?” etc. Its called circumlocution! Check out This Handout from The Nice Speech Lady – its a fab resource to get others thinking
  12. “What was that?” Don’t be afraid if you don’t understand what someone has said with their communication device. We teach people who use AAC to use the quickest means possible to get themselves understood but communication is two ways – ask the AAC user to repeat or explain in another way if they can – don’t just nod and agree! 🙂

  13. Write it down! If you’re working with someone who is using a chart, mouthing words write down the message if they can’t themselves. Even those who use high-tech it’s useful. Not only does it make conversation easier – having a record of conversations they’ve had with others is extremely valuable.  The more  scribbles / diagrams / pictures the better! In hospital it’s particularly valuable – when they then have visitors after you’ve gone, they can find the pages in their notebook and show them what was discussed which can be great at reducing frustration.
  14. When teaching someone how to use their AAC don’t ask questions where you already know the answer! Be genuine. Instead of asking “What’s this called?” & pointing to an apple, you could say “I like apples, do you have a favourite fruit?”
  15. “Tots Amazeballs!” When teaching an AAC strategy provide relevant & age appropriate language and model the use of this. This might even include swearing.  Encouraging peers or siblings to model this language is important to develop social interaction skills
  16. “If I’m being rude or you don’t like something I say don’t remove my voice” If someone using AAC is being annoying, rude, inappropriate or disruptive please don’t remove their communication system. You wouldn’t take someones crutches away to restrict their movement. Just treat people the same
  17. “Will make my child lazy about talking?” It’s a common anxiety but all the research suggests not – infact it seems to encourage speech development
  18. Motivation! If you are with someone who is learning how to use AAC find out the persons interests and plan communication activities around those. It will be way more interesting than schoolwork or care routines! Trains, animals, family, hair and make up, rock music? Or maybe they enjoy just being with their friends? A group or pairs activity with their peers may be more motivating than working 1:1
  19. Communication isn’t writing. Whatever works! Encourage AAC users to use any strategy to get their message across in the simplest & easiest way as possible. Don’t have a symbol for canapes  – teach ‘can’, ‘happy’ and ‘s’ =  canhappys!
  20. Tip 20 for is for the people who use communication aids! Worried about losing your device? Make a Screensaver/Desktop background on device with Contact number in case it gets lost! And sticker up!
  21. “I know what they want. Why do I need to bother with AAC?” If everyone makes decisions on behalf of the person using AAC and never seeks their views or opinions, they are likely to become frustrated at the very least, and, even worse, there is the danger that they will disengage and become passive. This can have huge implications for their learning and development for children.
  22. Working with children who are not yet literate? Introducing symbols early never hurt anyone! Have some activity boards ready to use with the persons favourite activity so you can model/point talk. Lots of ideas here
  23. An AAC system is rarely ready to go with all the language required. Phrases and words particular to the individual need to be put on it. Think about different situations and conversation with others and “easy quick wins”; Jokes, Social Scripts around motivating topics are a good start.
  24. Unsure of a persons level of language comprehension? Think outside the box! If your unsure you can always start with some observation. Try interviewing familiar communication partners. Check out the pragmatic profile for AAC to help you to understand how someone is communicating. Parents and Carers so often have such great examples to share!
  25. “My Therapist keeps going on about low-tech charts. Why can’t I just use a tablet?”  Most people who use AAC communicate using a range of different approaches e.g. low tech AAC, sounds, gesture, signing, drawing, writing. Technology in and of itself is not important – what’s important is the communication. Technology is just one tool among many that can help us to communicate.
  26. Sometimes AAC is about more than just chatting. Teach “Operational competence”!  For example, try encouraging aac users to take responsibility for changing their device and how to control the volume of their system.
  27. Blogs, forums & online chats are all great ways to share ideas & tips about #AAC but you can’t beat meeting people face-to-face, check out what @1VoiceAAC are doing in your area – and if there isn’t anything close-by then why not arrange your own – they’re always happy to welcome ‘pop-up events’
  28. Tip 28 for #AACAware2021 has been shared by Kate Caryer:  if you’re happy to do it, then getting other people to explain what you mean can be a useful strategy when communication breakdown occurs.  If the person who uses AAC chooses to do it then it’s ok!
  29. Is your communication passport ready & to hand? You never know when you might meet a new person you want to speak with – be that a supply teacher in school, doctor in A&E or someone you want to chat up!
    Communication passports can be printed or electronic – lots of great templates available from Call Scotland
    Video passports can also help as it’s sometimes much easier to show things like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on video than trying to describe it in words.
  30. Working with someone in education using AAC? Try and not just use AAC to name things but use the system to describe things! Do we need Dracula’s name in a AAC system or can we get someone to explain a person who has big teeth, likes the night and is scary!? It’s called the “Descriptive Teaching Model” – and once you get the hang of it, it makes working with AAC a lot easier.
  31. Learning to use AAC takes a lot longer than the 31 days of #AACAware2021! The last and final tip: IT TAKES TIME! Please be patient – give people time to get familiar with and learn how to use AAC – both people using it and their communication partners
Helping children with AAC needs