What are Augmentative Communication Devices?

What are Augmentative Communication Devices?

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a term used to describe forms of communication other than speaking. AAC encompasses a variety of communication strategies from sign language, picture cards, and picture boards to various mobile apps and high-tech speech generating devices. These forms of communication allow children with complex communication needs to interact with the people and world around them. Speech generating AAC devices produce synthesized speech when a letter, word, or symbol is selected. They allow children to express their physical, medical, emotional, and social wants and needs simply and effectively when verbal speech is not an option. 

Augmentative vs. Alternative Communication 

Augmentative communication is to add to or support a child’s speech, whereas alternative communication is used in the place of natural speech. A child who uses a speech generating device as an augmentative communication tool would be a child who is capable of speaking, though may not be able to be understood by everyone around them (e.g., teachers, doctors, family members, peers).  A child who uses a speech generating device as an alternative form of communication would be one who is unable to use verbal speech and requires the AAC device for all communication interactions. Both augmentative and alternative communication needs can be met with the use of high-tech speech generating devices under the instruction of a skilled Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). 

Types of Speech Generating Devices 

In the last decade, technology has become one of the biggest influences on our culture, and the world of AAC is no exception. Speech generating devices are known to be the highest tech available for AAC. Their use is on the rise in clinics, schools, and homes all over the country because of their capacity to help children with complex communication needs find their voices. Speech generating devices can come in two forms:  

  • Dedicated device: a speech generating device used solely for the purpose of communication. 
  • Non-dedicated device: a speech generating device used for communication, among other things such as accessing the internet, games, and other apps not related to communication.  

A Speech Language Pathologist generally advocates for the use of dedicated devices. The use of dedicated speech generating devices is preferred because they are only used for communication and do not come with the distractions associated with games and other apps.

Accessibility of Speech Generating Devices 

The most commonly discussed access method for a speech generating augmentative communication device is called direct selection. Direct selection is when a child would use their hands (or sometimes feet) to type letters, words, and/or select symbols. Direct selection is not the only option for using speech generating devices though. Children with complex communication needs may also have physical limitations which would prevent them from using direct selection. For these cases, there are several other access methods available including: 

  • Switch scanning: The user presses a “switch” with their hands/feet/head, etc., when the letter, word, or symbol they wish to use is highlighted on the screen.  
  • Head tracking: The user has a reflective sticker placed on their head or glasses, and the device sensor tracks where they are pointing to communicate the desired message. 
  • Eye gaze: The device has a sensor that is individualized to track the user’s eye movements so that they may communicate their messages by simply looking at letters, words, and/or symbols on the screen. 

3 Common Questions and Myths about Speech Generating Devices  

Several questions and concerns typically arise when an SLP suggests the use of AAC devices and assistive technology for a child.   

Will AAC keep my child from talking?  

  • The short answer is no. The use of a speech generating device in conjunction with speech therapy is shown to increase a child’s use and acquisition of expressive language skills. Speech generating devices will also help your child learn how to read and write.

Shouldn’t my child learn how to use low-tech options (PECS, communication boards, etc.) before using a speech generating device? 

  • The answer is also no! There are no prerequisites to using AAC, and that includes the use of high-tech AAC. Speech generating devices can be introduced to children of all ages. Even a two-year-old child can be introduced to a high-tech device when learning to communicate.

My child talks and I can understand them most of the time, therefore they would not benefit from a speech-generating device.   

  • Children who use natural speech do benefit from using a speech-generating device. Speech generating devices can augment your child’s speech and language by decreasing the pressure and stress that they may associate with communicating. This builds your child’s confidence while facilitating successful communication interactions. They can also help your child continue to build language and literacy skills while working on speech production in therapy.  

Obtaining a Speech Generating Device  

If you think your child would benefit from a speech generating augmentative communication device, a skilled SLP at any of our Ivy Rehab for Kids clinics can help with the next steps. They will evaluate your child’s strengths in the following areas of communication:   

  • Receptive Language  
  • Expressive Language   
  • Cognitive Communication  
  • Speech Sound Production  
  • Literacy  

With your help, the SLP will also identify their daily social, emotional, and medical needs; important people and places; and motivating toys, snacks, and activities to create an individualized treatment plan.   

After the initial evaluation, the SLP will work with you to determine the speech generating device and language system that will work best for your child and family. This process may include several AAC device trials with multiple different companies, devices, language systems, and access methods. Our skilled, speech-language pathologists are able to work directly with local AAC suppliers to find the best possible solution for your child, and help you through the next steps of working with your physician and insurance company, or grant programs, and/or local organizations. Upon receiving the device, the SLP will work with your child, your family, and your child’s educators to ensure that everyone in their life can operate and understand their device so that they can reach their full potential.   

We can help!

If you are interested in learning more about using a speech generating device for your child, contact one of our Speech Language Pathologists. Visit our website for location information or to request an appointment online,

Article By: Kaelan Henman, M.A., CCC-SLP  

Kaelan began his career in speech-language pathology in 2018 and loves working with the pediatric population. He believes that communication is a human right and strives to make it accessible to all children in the community. Kaelan is PROMPT trained, is a Hanen-Certified SLP for the Hanen More Than Words program and specializes in AAC and early childhood language development. He currently treats patients at Ivy Rehab for Kids in Tecumseh, MI. 


The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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