AAC and Technology

Augmentative and Alternative Communication
and Technology

What is AAC?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC includes devices, methods, or systems used to supplement speech or when speech has not developed or has been lost. AAC devices and methods can be extremely beneficial for students with ASD and for students with other disabilities who have not yet developed language or who struggle to use language effectively.


When individuals with ASD cannot use speech to communicate effectively in all situations, there are options including unaided communication systems such as:

  • Gestures,
  • Body language
  • Sign language

and aided communication systems that require the use of tools, equipment, and technology. Strategies include:

  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Dynavox and other programmable computers
  • iPads and other tablets
  • iPhones and other smartphones
  • Voice Output Communication Assistance (VOCA) devices

For some individuals, AAC will remain their primary communication tool for most of their life.  In other cases, the AAC devices will be faded out once spoken language begins to emerge as an effective communication strategy.

AAC benefits for people with autism and other communication problems

Mistakenly believing that AAC will hinder natural language development, some educators utilize AAC as a final option only when other language interventions have failed.  However, research suggests just the opposite. For individuals with autism and others, AAC can be used to supplement existing speech or to replace speech that is not reliable or efficient. Some children who use AAC systems may develop vocal and spoken language skills after exposure to AAC.

AAC represents an aspect of communication intervention, which is usually a central focus of educational programming for students with ASD.  Speech/Language Therapists should always consider the potential use of AAC for students with a struggle to acquire speech, particularly when the research suggests that AAC interventions can possibly jump-start spoken language development.

Using AAC to teach people with Autism and other communication disorders

wSLIDER-FOPipadResearch suggests that all individuals can communicate, regardless of disability. For individuals with autism who inherently struggle with communication, the identification of appropriate communication support is a primary responsibility of educational teams.

Today, Speech/Language Therapists employ AAC and other emerging technological tools (e.g. iPads) to support effective communication development as language skills are taught, strengthened, and reinforced.  The research clearly indicates that effective and efficient communication skills improve the quality of life and reduce behavioral problems for people on the autism spectrum.

Who is qualified to use AAC?

Trained Speech/Language Therapists should supervise and guide the process of identifying potential AAC supports and implementing the strategies for learners with autism.  While classroom teachers and teaching assistants can contribute to more successful and reliable use of AAC, trained communication interventionists should be responsible for determining the appropriateness and effectiveness of these supports.

The role of AAC at AHRC New York City

AAC is utilized in all AHRC NYC schools.  Depending on their individual needs, students are offered a wide range of AAC supports including PECS, Word/Sign (sign language), and iPads.  When AAC is used, teachers receive training on the particular system and students are systematically taught how the AAC will help them communicate more effectively and efficiently.  Research suggests students with autism are motivated by media and technology. Our educators embrace this preference by exposing the students to AAC devices when expressive language acquisition is challenging.

AAC as used at AHRC Middle High School

AAC in use by the students of AHRC Middle High School

The role of technology at AHRC New York City

Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. It is a central aspect of most workplaces and classrooms. Recognizing the benefits that technology can add to student learning, our teachers identify ways to appropriately incorporate technology into daily lesson plans. AHRC NYC’s Technology Training Director oversees the acquisition, introduction, use, maintenance, and evaluation of technology in our classrooms. The Technology Training Director ensures that teachers are familiar and comfortable with new technologies as they integrate these modern supports into instructional settings.

Research suggests that students with autism are more likely to sustain attention when content is presented through technological means.

Our teachers are well-trained to use AAC devices to support and enhance student learning, improve student motivation, and potentially increase the gains made by students. While AAC devices provide unique opportunities for instruction, technology does not replace traditional teaching methods. No innovation can replace “good teaching.”

Mindful that children can sometimes become too attached to technology, our teachers work with AHRC NYC’s Technology Training Director and school administration to establish an appropriate, well-defined amount of technology or “screen-time” in the classroom.

The primary technological tools used in AHRC NYC’s classrooms are:

  • Desktop computers
  • iPads
  • SMARTboards

Desktop Computers

Each AHRC NYC classroom is equipped with a computer. Teachers use computers it to identify teaching tools, supplement lesson content, and provide computer-based instruction in specific cases. Occasionally, computers serve as a reward for students who are particularly motivated by using technology.  There are enumerable online resources that can help teachers to present content in new and exciting ways.  Each school has a Media Room that allows students to learn about technology along with their peers.


iPads are available to all of our teachers.  AHRC NYC schools continue to build their pool of tablets. Each school has at least 20 iPads that can be used by teachers and their students.  In the classrooms, iPads can be used to present content visually and to provide a hands-on tool for students to demonstrate their communication, artistic or other skills. As with computers, iPads can sometimes be used as reinforcement for students with a special interest in them.  The growing “app” field has yielded a number of education-based applications that present ideas in fascinating, memorable ways.


The SMARTboard is an interactive whiteboard that replaces traditional blackboards or dry-erase boards as instruments for presenting content to a larger group of students. Each classroom has either a permanently installed SMARTboard or has access to a mobile SMARTboard.

Teachers can easily display computer-based content on the SMARTboard touch screen, allowing students to interact with or manipulate on-screen items.  This capitalizes on the students’ propensity for visually-based, interactive learning and can facilitate fast-paced, motivating lessons for multiple students at the same time.