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Augmentative and Alternative Communication with EdTech


Augmentative and alternative communication is a type of assistive technology used primarily for people with speech, vocal, and swallowing impairments. Augmentative and alternative communication can refer to simple body language all the way to high-tech devices. With many solutions from sign language to digitized language, it can be difficult to know exactly what your student needs without understanding the small differences between augmentative and alternative.

Augmentative communication is used for those who can produce verbal speech but need assistance or supplementation. Alternative communication is used for those who cannot produce verbal speech thus needing an alternative to it. Thankfully, technology, more particularly EdTech, makes it easier than ever to communicate with all students in the classroom.

As EdTech continues to allow for inclusivity and growth, it is important to know what you can do to be the best teacher you can be as well as providing the students the very best education using augmentative and alternative communication.

You can learn more about EdTech in our article Updated 2020 EdTech Trends to Watch!

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is more common than you think. If you have ever used your hands to signal or have written a note on a piece of paper, then you have used a form of augmentative and alternative communication!

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), roughly 80% of children ages three to 17 in the United States have some form of swallowing, speech, or vocal impairment. That means you have met at least one child who has a speech impairment of some form, whether mild or severe, in your life.

With that statistic, it is clear to see why classrooms need to be equipped. Thanks to EdTech, augmentative and alternative communication is getting more advanced and beneficial. Now we have what are called speech-generating devices (SGDs) that cover all types of impairments and needs to help children reduce anxiety and produce language without hassle.

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

Augmentative and alternative communication (or AAC) is a broad concept under the umbrella term of assistive technology. At its simplest, augmentative and alternative communication is using technology, aided and unaided symbols, physical objects, and even body language as a means of supplementing or replacing natural speech. However, there are many different definitions of what may classify as AAC given its broadness.

Another important term to understand when discussing augmentative and alternative communication is speech-generating devices (SGD). This refers to the tools being used while augmentative and alternative communication is the concept. For example, a child uses a speech generating device to help produce augmentative or alternative communication.

AAC - Defined

What is the Difference Between Augmentative Communication and Alternative Communication?

Augmentative and alternative communication differ depending on whether the speaker can or cannot produce verbal speech. Augmentative refers to those who can produce verbal speech while alternative refers to those that cannot produce verbal speech.

When talking about augmentative and alternative communication, there is often a blending of the term. But notice there is an “and” placed between. While often easily put together, augmentative communication and alternative communication have distinct differences.

Augmentative Communication

Augmentative communication refers to a form of communication for those who have the ability to produce speech but need supplementation or assistance. Oftentimes, simply augmentative will refer to both augmentative and alternative, but there is a slight difference that can help you better understand a student’s needs.

What is important to note is that the student understands formatting of a language. Therefore, the student may or may not have a different pace of learning. Those who learn at a different pace may also use augmentative communication in that a teacher can provide appropriate level vocabulary and so on.

To help understand better let’s look at an example. A child with autism understands that communication involves a giver and receiver. But, the child with autism also experiences anxiety-induced selective mutism. To help relieve this, a teacher can use two tablets with a picture board instead of using verbal speech. The teacher can show them their pictures of food to signify lunch and then the child will choose or show on their own tablet which picture of food that they would like to eat.

AAC - what is augmentative communication

Alternative Communication

Alternative communication refers to a form of communication for those who do not have the ability to produce verbal speech. To better understand, let’s look at the example of the child with autism once again. In the first example, the child does not wish to speak due to anxiety-induced selective mutism but has the ability to produce speech or even simple sounds. Therefore, they can use augmentative communication.

However, if that same student were unable to produce speech, maybe due to injuries at birth or later, that same method of speech would then become alternative. Alternative means that they are replacing verbal speech rather than using EdTech to supplement verbal speech. Sign language is one of the most common forms of alternative communication.

To continue understanding, If the teacher has the ability to produce verbal speech, but uses sign language for communication to students, then they are using augmentative communication.

Why Is Augmentative and Alternative Communication in the Classroom Important?

Augmentative and alternative communication is highly important in the classroom. Since nearly 80% of children ages three to 17 experience some form of speech impairment, having options for these students can help them overcome their challenges and also bring awareness.

Making sure children understand that there is nothing wrong with them is important for developing a confident and successful adult. If they experience high levels of anxiety due to a stutter, vocal cues, and so on, that will inhibit them from learning valuable communicational skills.

It is pretty well known that effective communication is the most important soft skill for any job field. Making sure a child has the chance to communicate best fit for them and without emotional disturbances is important.

AAC - Types of Speech

How to Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication in Classrooms

Implementing augmentative and alternative communication in your classroom can be time-consuming. Thankfully, EdTech has made it a quick and painless process. Without EdTech, teachers were forced to use mainly expressive communication and symbol systems when faced with a child who has a speech impairment.

Now with EdTech, teachers have more options to communicate with their students. And many schools are much more aware, thus providing funding for classrooms. It is also easier to implement solid lesson plans and strategies to make sure you can provide an effective inclusive classroom.

Before moving on, check out this awesome source to learn more about the types of communication so you can make an informed choice.

EdTech as Speech-Generating Devices

Speech-generating devices (SGDs) are the specialized devices used by people who need augmentative and alternative communication. They can also be referred to as communication devices. But what is important to take from them is that they have evolved immensely in the past few years.

Nearly everyone has a cellphone and it has become one of the most common forms of speech generating devices for parents all over the world. But it has become much broader. Many classrooms in the United States are implementing what are called interactive flat-panel displays (IFPD), also sometimes called interactive whiteboards. These are the large display whiteboards where students can draw, annotate, and do so much more.

When using this technology, it’s often to referred to as EdTech since it is being used for educational purpose. But there are so many other options to successfully implement speech generating devices in your classroom. Here are 54 Top Tips and Tricks for implementing an AAC device in your classroom you should know before making a decision.

Digital Whiteboard

Digital whiteboarding is using any software that simulates a whiteboard, often involving interactive whiteboards as the input device. These are wonderful options for classrooms that have students with speech impairments and even other potential needs. Many of these displays come with pre-installed software. For example, the ViewBoards comes with the myViewBoard software which has many types of common AAC such as live closed captions, text-to-speech, recording, screen sharing, and beyond.

Since so many classrooms have this EdTech, you can even find forums online like A to Z Teacher Stuff to get suggestions from other teachers on how they accommodate their students. Other websites like The Teacher’s Corner share lesson plans and worksheets to help teachers.

Having cool and collaborative technology also gives the student a fun and exciting way to communicate thus promoting development.


A tablet is a great option for at home and in the classroom. These are often more budget friendly and portable. When implementing AAC, it is important to use whatever source of communication the child uses. For example, if a child writes you a question on a piece of paper, do not answer the question using verbal speech, write it down as well.

Tablets are fantastic for the trading of communication due to their portability and price point. Of course, you can share one tablet between student and teacher. But to give the student a chance to communicate with students who do not have speech impairments in the same manner can be great for their self-esteem and development.

Touch Monitors

Touch monitors are like interactive whiteboards, but just on a smaller scale. Touch monitors are perfect solutions for smaller clinics or therapy rooms. It is also great for schools that may not have as much budget but have options for afterschool programs. If maintained well, it is also possible, that the student can sit at the monitor during classes for better communication options.

Touch monitors may also be better for students who are slowly moving away from their speech impairments. Since the options and functionality is a little more limited than an interactive whiteboard, they may develop incentives to begin communicating verbally if they have the ability.

AAC- tips for emotional disturbances

Augmentative and Alternative Communication at Home

Most of this article focused on the at-school strategies, but any part of a child’s develop is dependent on home as well. Implementing AAC at home can be difficult because parents do not always have the space or the money to purchase fancy technology and software.

Thankfully, using AAC at home does not have to be as painful as you may think. You can help your child with proper intention and a solid strategy.

How to Know If Your Child Needs Speech-Generating Devices

If you feel that your child is experiencing speech impairments or other complications, always make sure to first talk to their doctors, therapist, and teacher. Remember that it is completely normal and possible for a child to experience an issue with language, and it may even be relieved a few weeks later.

Once you have determined that your child may have a speech impairment, take them to a speech pathologist for proper diagnosis. With their help, you can determine what kind of speech-generating device they need and how you can help them in the long run.

You should also look at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s early identification of speech, language, and hearing disorders list if you worry your child may be experiencing impairments.

Useful Apps for Learning at Home

If your child needs a form of AAC, one solution for parents is the use of APPs. Medical Staffing and Therapy Source provided two great comprehensive lists of app solutions for children who need augmentative and alternative communication. You can even download apps for emotional disturbances as well such as Talking Pierre the Parrot to help relieve anxiety.

It is also important to know that some of the APPs cost money. But many have free versions that have limited features. If you feel your child would benefit greatly from an app you cannot afford, try talking to their teachers or doctors and seeing if they have options for funding or disability assistance.

AAC - Best Apps

Final Thoughts on Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Augmentative and alternative communication is a very important concept for teachers to embrace, especially as we move towards more inclusive classrooms. Thankfully, it is much more accessible to everyone. Once you have established what your student may be experiencing you can help.

ViewSonic offers a wide selection of EdTech and software solutions that can make your classroom more inclusive and help those students who need AAC. Learn more about ViewSonic’s education solutions, or find out more about how technology is used in the classroom.