What Is An AAC Device For Autism?

From user-friendly tablets to creative picture boards, explore how these tools empower unique voices and foster meaningful connections. Uncover the world of AAC devices and how they go beyond words to unlock a spectrum of expression for individuals with autism.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
December 24, 2023
Published On
December 24, 2023

Understanding AAC Devices for Autism

In the world of autism communication, AAC devices play a crucial role in enabling individuals with autism to express themselves and connect with others. Let's explore what AAC devices are and how they benefit individuals with autism.

What are AAC Devices?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC devices are tools and technologies designed to assist individuals who have difficulty with speech or cannot rely solely on verbal communication. These devices provide alternative means of expression and help bridge the communication gap.

AAC devices come in various forms, including dedicated communication devices, tablets, smartphones, and computer-based systems. They use symbols, pictures, text, or voice output to facilitate communication. By using AAC devices, individuals with autism can express their thoughts, needs, and emotions effectively, enhancing their overall quality of life.

boy sitting on chair beside table using tablet computer

How AAC Devices Benefit Individuals with Autism

AAC devices offer numerous benefits to individuals with autism, empowering them to communicate and participate more fully in everyday life. Here are some key advantages of using AAC devices:

  • Improved Communication: AAC devices provide a means of communication for individuals who have limited or no verbal speech. They enable users to express their thoughts, needs, and desires, promoting effective communication and reducing frustration.
  • Increased Independence: AAC devices enhance individuals' independence by giving them a way to communicate without relying solely on others to interpret their needs. This independence fosters self-confidence and autonomy.
  • Enhanced Social Interactions: AAC devices enable individuals with autism to actively participate in social interactions. They can engage in conversations, express their opinions, and build relationships with others, promoting social inclusion and connection.
  • Language Development: AAC devices can support language development by providing visual cues, symbols, and text. Users can learn new words, sentence structures, and grammar through the consistent use of their AAC systems.
  • Access to Education: AAC devices facilitate access to education for individuals with autism. These devices allow students to actively participate in classroom activities, engage with peers, and benefit from educational opportunities.
  • Reduced Frustration: For individuals with autism who struggle with speech, AAC devices offer a means to effectively communicate their needs and wants. This reduces frustration, as they can express themselves and be understood by others.

AAC devices should be selected based on individual needs, preferences, and abilities. Working closely with professionals, therapists, and caregivers can help determine the most suitable AAC system for each individual.

In the next section, we will explore different types of AAC devices, including picture-based systems, text-based systems, and voice output communication aids (VOCAs). Stay tuned to discover the diverse range of options available to support communication for individuals with autism.

Types of AAC Devices

AAC devices, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices, come in various forms to cater to the unique communication needs of individuals with autism. These devices provide a means for individuals with limited verbal abilities to express themselves effectively. Let's explore three common types of AAC devices: picture-based systems, text-based systems, and voice output communication aids (VOCAs).

Picture-Based Systems

Picture-based AAC systems use visual symbols to represent words, phrases, and concepts. These symbols can be organized on a communication board or displayed on a tablet or dedicated device. Individuals with autism can use their finger or a stylus to point to the symbols, indicating their desired message. Picture-based systems are especially beneficial for individuals who are more visually inclined or have difficulty with reading and writing.


  • Visual representation aids comprehension.
  • Suitable for individuals with limited reading skills.
  • Can be customized with individualized symbols.


  • May require significant time to set up and update symbol libraries.
  • Limited capacity for conveying complex or abstract ideas.
  • Can be challenging for others to interpret the meaning behind the symbols.

Text-Based Systems

Text-based AAC systems utilize a keyboard or pre-programmed phrases to facilitate communication. These systems are ideal for individuals who have well-developed literacy skills or are in the process of learning to read and write. Text-based systems can be implemented on various devices, including tablets, smartphones, or dedicated AAC devices. Users can type out their messages, which are then displayed on the screen for communication partners to read.


  • Allows for more flexibility and expressive communication.
  • Suitable for individuals with strong reading and writing skills.
  • Can support language development and literacy skills.


  • Requires proficient typing skills.
  • May be overwhelming for individuals who struggle with spelling or written language.
  • Relies on the availability of a device or technology.

Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs)

VOCAs are AAC devices that combine visual symbols or text with voice output capabilities. These devices provide users with the ability to select symbols or type out messages, which are then converted into spoken words using synthesized speech. VOCAs enable individuals with autism to communicate with others by producing audible speech. This type of AAC device is particularly beneficial for individuals who have difficulty with verbal expression but can understand and use symbols or text.


  • Allows for spoken communication, fostering social interactions.
  • Provides auditory feedback for the user and communication partners.
  • Can be customized with individualized messages.


  • May require time and effort to set up personalized vocabulary and messages.
  • Voice output may not accurately represent the user's natural voice or intonation.
  • Relies on technology and requires battery power.

Understanding the different types of AAC devices is essential when selecting the most suitable option for individuals with autism. It's important to consider the individual's communication abilities, preferences, and goals when determining the appropriate AAC system.

Features and Functionality

AAC devices for autism offer a range of features and functionality to support effective communication. These features are designed to enhance communication skills and provide individuals with autism the means to express themselves. Let's explore some key features and functionalities of AAC devices:

Symbol Libraries and Customization Options

AAC devices often come equipped with symbol libraries that contain a vast array of pictures, icons, and symbols representing words, actions, and concepts. These symbols help individuals with autism to understand and express their thoughts, needs, and desires. Additionally, many AAC devices offer customization options, allowing users and caregivers to personalize the symbol libraries to better align with the individual's preferences and everyday life.

Feature and Description

  • Symbol Libraries: Preloaded with a wide range of symbols representing words, actions, and concepts.
  • Customization Options: Ability to modify and personalize symbol libraries to meet individual preferences and needs.

Input Methods and Access Strategies

AAC devices offer various input methods and access strategies to accommodate different communication abilities and physical limitations. Some individuals may use touch screens, while others may utilize switches, eye gaze, or head pointers to interact with the device. These input methods are designed to ensure that individuals with autism can effectively engage with and operate the AAC device.

Feature and Description

  • Touch Screens: Responsive touch screens for direct selection of symbols or words.
  • Switches: External switches or buttons that can be pressed or activated to make selections.
  • Eye Gaze: Eye tracking technology that allows individuals to select symbols by looking at them.
  • Head Pointers: Devices that enable individuals to make selections using head movements.

Integration with Other Communication Tools

AAC devices can be integrated with other communication tools and technologies to enhance the overall communication experience. For example, AAC devices can be connected to computers, tablets, or smartphones to facilitate text-based communication or access to additional communication apps. Integration with other tools allows for seamless transitions between different modes of communication and expands the range of communication possibilities.

Feature and Description

  • Connection to Computers/Tablets/Smartphones: Integration with other devices to enable text-based communication and access to additional communication apps.
  • Compatibility with Communication Apps: Ability to utilize communication apps alongside the AAC device for more diverse communication options.

AAC devices for autism offer a wide range of features and functionalities that cater to the unique communication needs of individuals on the spectrum. The availability of symbol libraries and customization options, along with various input methods and access strategies, ensures that individuals can effectively express themselves. Integration with other communication tools further enhances the capabilities of AAC devices.

AAC Device Selection Process

Selecting the right AAC device for individuals with autism requires careful consideration of their communication needs, individual preferences, and abilities. Working with professionals and therapists can provide valuable insights and guidance throughout the selection process.

Assessing Communication Needs

The first step in the AAC device selection process is to assess the communication needs of the individual with autism. This involves evaluating their current communication skills, strengths, and challenges. A comprehensive assessment may include observations, interviews, and standardized tests conducted by speech-language pathologists or other professionals experienced in AAC assessment.

By understanding the specific communication needs of the individual, it becomes easier to identify the most suitable AAC device. Some individuals may require simple picture-based systems, while others may benefit from more advanced text-based systems or voice output communication aids (VOCAs). Assessments help determine the appropriate level of complexity and functionality required for effective communication.

Considering Individual Preferences and Abilities

When selecting an AAC device, it's essential to consider the individual's preferences and abilities. Each person with autism has unique characteristics and communication styles. Some individuals may prefer visual symbols, while others may be more comfortable with text-based systems. It's crucial to involve the individual in the decision-making process, considering their personal preferences, sensory sensitivities, and cognitive abilities.

Additionally, factors such as motor skills and physical limitations should be taken into account. Some individuals may require AAC devices with alternative access methods, such as eye tracking or switch scanning, to effectively operate the device. Assessing and considering these individual factors ensures that the chosen AAC device is well-suited to the person's needs and abilities.

Working with Professionals and Therapists

Collaborating with professionals and therapists experienced in AAC can significantly facilitate the device selection process. Speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and assistive technology specialists can provide valuable insights and expertise. They can guide individuals with autism and their caregivers through the assessment process, offer device recommendations based on their expertise, and provide training and support for device implementation.

These professionals can provide essential advice on device features, access methods, and customization options based on the individual's unique needs. They can also assist with ongoing monitoring and adjustments to ensure the AAC device remains effective and beneficial in supporting communication goals.

The AAC device selection process is a collaborative effort involving careful assessment, consideration of individual preferences, and guidance from professionals. By taking these steps, individuals with autism can find an AAC device that empowers them to communicate effectively, fostering independence and enhancing their overall quality of life.

Supporting Communication with AAC Devices

To fully harness the potential of AAC devices, it is essential to provide the necessary support for individuals with autism. This support includes AAC device training and implementation, creating a communication environment that fosters interaction, and encouraging language development.

AAC Device Training and Implementation

Proper training and implementation of AAC devices are crucial for individuals with autism to effectively utilize these communication tools. Training should involve not only the individual with autism but also their caregivers, educators, and therapists. This collaborative approach ensures that everyone involved is knowledgeable about the device's features and functionality.

Training sessions may cover topics such as navigating the device interface, selecting appropriate symbols or vocabulary, and understanding the communication software. It is important to tailor the training to the individual's specific needs and abilities. Ongoing support and guidance are necessary to address any challenges that may arise during the learning process.

Creating a Communication Environment

Creating a communication environment that supports the use of AAC devices is essential for maximizing their effectiveness. This involves fostering a supportive and inclusive atmosphere where individuals with autism feel comfortable expressing themselves using their AAC devices.

Here are some strategies for creating a communication-friendly environment:

  • Encouraging Communication: Encourage and validate all forms of communication, whether it is verbal, nonverbal, or through the AAC device. Ensure that everyone involved understands and respects the individual's preferred mode of communication.
  • Reducing Communication Barriers: Minimize distractions and sensory overload in the environment to help individuals focus on communication. Use visual supports, such as schedules or visual cues, to enhance comprehension and facilitate interaction.
  • Promoting Social Interactions: Facilitate opportunities for social interactions and communication with peers and family members. Encourage joint activities, turn-taking, and cooperative play, which can help develop social and communication skills.

Encouraging Language Development and Interaction

AAC devices can play a significant role in promoting language development and interaction for individuals with autism. Here are some strategies to encourage language development:

  • Modeling Language: Model language and AAC device use consistently to demonstrate how to express thoughts, needs, and feelings. This modeling helps individuals acquire new vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • Providing Language Stimulation: Engage individuals in meaningful conversations and activities that encourage the use of their AAC devices. Offer opportunities for them to practice using their devices in various contexts and with different communication partners.
  • Supporting Language Expansion: Support language expansion by providing aided language input. This involves using the AAC device to supplement spoken language, reinforcing the connection between symbols and words.

By providing comprehensive support, including training, a communication-friendly environment, and language development opportunities, individuals with autism can fully benefit from AAC devices. These devices, along with other assistive technologies, can significantly enhance communication skills, independence, and overall quality of life.


To sum it up in a more down-to-earth way, an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device for autism is like a personalized communication buddy. It's a tool designed to help individuals express themselves when words might be a bit tricky. From high-tech tablets to simple picture boards, these devices offer a bridge for those who face communication challenges associated with autism.

In our exploration, we've seen how AAC devices empower individuals to connect, share, and engage with the world around them. It's not just about words; it's about fostering understanding and giving a voice to unique thoughts, feelings, and ideas. As we embrace the technology and creativity behind AAC devices, we're not just opening up communication — we're opening up worlds of possibility and connection for those on the autism spectrum.