Debunking 11 Common Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Myths


Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) plays a crucial role in assisting individuals with communication challenges. Yet, numerous misconceptions surround its use and effectiveness. In this post, I want to debunk some common AAC myths and shed light on the truths of AAC.

In this post, you’ll learn about:

  • What AAC is,
  • 11 common myths about AAC,
  • The actual capabilities and scope of AAC,
  • The damage caused when people believe these myths, and
  • Some best practices for implementing AAC.

Ready to demystify AAC and learn more about this vital communication tool? Let’s get started!

Graphic of communication modes

What is AAC?

The term Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) covers a wide range of tools and strategies designed to support or replace speech and writing for those with impairments in the production or comprehension of spoken or written language. AAC is not a one-size-fits-all solution; rather, it can be tailored to the unique needs and abilities of each individual.

AAC systems are broadly categorized into two types: unaided and aided. 

Unaided AAC systems do not require external tools and rely on the user’s body to convey messages. This includes gestures, body language, and sign language. 

In contrast, aided AAC systems use external equipment, ranging from low-tech options such as pencil and paper and simple picture boards to high-tech options such as sophisticated speech-generating devices that can be customized to suit individual preferences and capabilities (like our very own APP2Speak app). 

These tools not only facilitate communication, but they can also play a pivotal role in enhancing the user’s social interaction, educational opportunities, and overall quality of life.

Understanding the diversity and adaptability of AAC systems is key to appreciating their role in empowering individuals with communication difficulties.

Common AAC Myths

  • As you can see from the definition of AAC above, it can be a powerful tool for helping those with communication challenges to lead more full, enjoyable lives. But not everyone sees it that way.

Surprisingly, there are many misconceptions out there about AAC, misconceptions that often lead caregivers not to seek out the help their loved ones need.

In this section, I’d like to go over 11 of the most common AAC myths I encounter on a regular basis and explain why each of these is inaccurate.

  • Myth 1: There are Prerequisites for People to Use AAC

Contrary to popular belief, there are no specific prerequisites for using AAC. It is true that in the past, many people believed that certain cognitive or prerequisite skills had to be in place before someone could benefit from trying AAC. Now we know that Individuals of all ages and cognitive abilities can benefit from AAC tools, as long as those tools are tailored to their unique communication needs and abilities.

Fact: Research consistently shows that individuals with a wide range of communication challenges can successfully use AAC from a very early age without needing to meet specific prerequisites, as long as they have the proper support system in place.

Myth 2: AAC Hinders Further Speech Development

Many parents believe that the use of AAC by their young children could delay their speech development. This isn’t true. Research shows that AAC does not impede speech development. In fact, it often supports and enhances language growth, offering a means of communication while speech skills are developing.

Fact: There are many studies that indicate AAC can facilitate natural speech development. Far from hindering speech, AAC provides a platform for practicing language skills.

Myth 3: AAC Should Be a Last Resort After Traditional Therapy Has Run Its Course

Not true. Rather, AAC should be considered as an integral part of an early intervention strategy. Delaying its use can hinder communication development and social interaction. In addition, early use of AAC often leads to growth in independence and self-esteem, which in turn decreases frustration and acting out behaviors.

Fact: Early intervention with AAC can significantly enhance communication skills, social interaction, and learning. That’s why it’s important to introduce AAC as soon as a need is identified.

Myth 4: AAC is Only for People Who are Nonverbal

AAC supports individuals with a wide range of speech and language impairments, not just those who are nonverbal. It can augment existing speech and assist in communication challenges. Many regular users of AAC do, in fact, have some verbal abilities, but the AAC allows them to fill the gap that often exists between what they want and need to say and what they’re able to say. For example, many individuals with autism can benefit from the use of AAC during times of stress.

Fact: AAC aids individuals with a range of speech and language impairments, not just those who are nonverbal. It complements existing speech abilities and offers alternative modes of expression.

Myth 5: A Person Must Have Some Quality of Motor Skills to Use AAC

There are a variety of ways that AAC can be used to accommodate anyone, even those with very limited physical abilities. Modern AAC systems are incredibly diverse, offering access methods for individuals with various motor abilities, including eye tracking and switch access.

Fact: Modern AAC solutions cater to various motor abilities, offering customizable access methods like eye-tracking and adapted switches, ensuring accessibility for all users.

Myth 6: The Goal of AAC is to Communicate Basic Needs

This is a very limited and limiting viewpoint. In fact, AAC enables communication across a spectrum of needs and wants, from basic requests to complex thoughts and emotions, facilitating rich, full conversations.

Fact: AAC enables users to express a wide array of needs, thoughts, and emotions, not just basic requests, thereby supporting rich and varied communication.

Myth 7: AAC is Only Helpful to Young Children

Wrong! It’s never too late for AAC to be introduced. AAC is beneficial for individuals of all ages, providing communication support tailored to each life stage and changing needs.

Fact: Evidence shows that AAC can be effective at any age, providing vital communication support that evolves with an individual’s changing needs throughout their life.

Myth 8: Low-Tech AAC Should be Tried Before High-Tech AAC

There’s no evidence to suggest that an individual fares better if they try a simpler paper system before trying a high-tech system. You don’t “graduate” through some sort of AAC “hierarchy.” 

While a low-tech system is perfect for some users, others find the use of high-tech devices more motivating due to their voice output and due to the fact that most of these devices resemble smartphones or tablets (or are in fact apps installed on a smartphone or tablet).

Fact: The choice between low-tech and high-tech AAC should be based on personal needs and contexts, with both types offering significant benefits.

Myth 9: High-Tech AAC is Better Than Low-Tech AAC

Not true. Despite the fact that I just mentioned that some users are more motivated by high-tech AAC, there is no one-size-fits-all in AAC. There are pros and cons with each method. The effectiveness of high-tech versus low-tech AAC depends on the individual’s preferences, needs, and context.

Fact: Whether high-tech or low-tech, the effectiveness of AAC depends on how well it aligns with the user’s preferences and lifestyle, not the technology level.

Myth 10: A Person Should Only Use One AAC System

Many individuals benefit from using a combination of AAC systems–speech, gestures, body language, facial expressions, pictures, symbols, and written language–adapting to fit different environments and communication requirements.

Fact: Many individuals benefit from a multimodal approach, using a combination of AAC systems to effectively communicate in different settings.

Myth 11: Everyone Should Use the Same AAC System

AAC is (or at least should be) highly individualized. What works effectively for one person may not be suitable for another, highlighting the importance of personalized AAC solutions. It’s important that caregivers not impose their own preferences on the AAC user and give them the freedom to try different approaches until they find what works best for them.

Fact: AAC solutions are highly individualized. A system that works well for one person may not be the best fit for another, underscoring the need for tailored AAC approaches.

The Impact of Believing in AAC Myths

Now that I’ve shared the most common AAC myths, let’s talk about how damaging these myths can be.

The perpetuation of AAC myths can have profound, often detrimental effects on individuals who could benefit from these communication tools. Believing these myths leads to delayed or inappropriate AAC interventions, potentially stunting communication development and social integration.

For individuals who rely on AAC, accepting some of these myths as truth can limit access to more effective communication methods, isolating them further and impeding their ability to express complex thoughts and feelings. This isolation not only affects personal development, but also hinders educational and vocational opportunities.

Caregivers and professionals may also be misled by these myths, potentially leading to inadequate support for the AAC users they care for or about. This lack of support can result in missed opportunities for meaningful interaction and learning, reinforcing a cycle of underestimation and underutilization of the individual’s potential.

Furthermore, these misconceptions contribute to a broader societal misunderstanding of AAC. They propagate a limited view of the abilities and aspirations of those with communication challenges, reinforcing stereotypes and barriers to inclusion.

By dispelling these myths and embracing the true potential of AAC, we can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone, regardless of their communication abilities.

Best Practices for AAC Implementation

Implementing AAC effectively requires a thoughtful approach, tailored to the individual’s needs and circumstances. Here are some best practices to ensure successful AAC implementation:

  • Early Assessment and Intervention: Early assessment by a multidisciplinary team can identify the most suitable AAC options. Prompt intervention is crucial for maximizing the benefits of AAC.
  • Customization and Personalization: AAC systems should be highly personalized. This involves considering the individual’s communication needs, preferences, cognitive abilities, and physical skills to find the most effective solution.
  • Involving Family and Caregivers: Training and involving family members, caregivers, and educators in the AAC process is essential. Their support and understanding can significantly enhance the user’s experience and success with AAC.
  • Regular Review and Adaptation: AAC needs may change over time. Regularly reviewing and adapting the AAC system ensures it continues to meet the evolving needs of the user.
  • Integrating AAC into Daily Life: Successful AAC implementation means integrating the system into all aspects of the user’s life. This includes home, school, work, and social settings, ensuring a seamless transition between different environments.
  • Encouraging Multimodal Communication: Encourage the use of multiple communication modes, including natural speech, gestures, and AAC. This multi-modal approach can enhance overall communication effectiveness.
  • Professional Development and Training: Continuous professional development for those involved in AAC implementation, including therapists, educators, and caregivers, is vital for staying updated on the latest advancements and techniques in AAC.

By adhering to these best practices, AAC implementation can be a transformative tool, offering users a powerful means of expression and interaction.

Key Takeaways

I hope this post has given you a clearer, more accurate understanding of AAC, including the most pervasive and damaging myths.

Here are some of the key points that I hope you take away from this post:

  • AAC is a set of diverse and adaptable tools. 
  • Its use isn’t limited by age, ability, or speech level.
  • The myths surrounding AAC often stem from a lack of information and understanding.
  • Proper implementation and customization of AAC can significantly enhance communication and overall quality of life.

Most importantly, AAC is more than just a tool; it’s a pathway to empowerment, inclusion, and a richer life for those who use it.

For those eager to delve deeper into AAC and its implementation, the next logical step might be exploring detailed case studies or engaging in professional development courses focused on AAC. Such resources offer invaluable insights and practical knowledge and can further enrich your understanding of this crucial communication aid.