Share or print this story.
21 June 2022

An introduction to AAC and complex communication needs.

We communicate for many purposes – to engage with friends and family, express feelings, request something, share news, protest, object and share opinions.

Effective communication is essential to be able to participate in the community, build and maintain relationships and to make choices.

Our friends at Source Kids recently shared an insightful article about Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) by Sabrina Fong and Cecilia Rossi of AGOSCI, a not-for-profit organisation supporting people with complex communication needs.

Today, we’re sharing an edited extract of that story, with thanks to AGOSCI and Source Kids.


What are complex communication needs?

A person has complex communication needs (CCN) if they’re “unable to use speech to meet all of their communication requirements, given their age and culture”.[1]

For example, a child with CCN might be able to use speech to tell you they saw a bird in the sky, by saying, “bird”, but may not be able to use speech to tell someone that they went to the dinosaur museum on the weekend. A school aged child with CCN might use different kinds of vocalisations instead of words to communicate.

Parents who suspect that their child has CCN should seek advice from a medical professional. It’s likely they’ll refer you to a speech pathologist for assessment and intervention. Linking into support services may be beneficial to you and your child as it can connect you with others on the journey who can provide advice and guidance. Children with CCN may also qualify for funding through the NDIS.


All about AAC.

AAC means augmentative and alternative communication and includes every way that we share our thoughts and feelings without speaking words.

People with CCN use AAC to help them to express themselves. We all use forms of AAC every day, usually without even consciously labelling it as AAC.

Examples of using AAC include:

  • Writing and then passing a note to another person
  • Texting an emoji to a friend to convey your feelings
  • Pointing to a “cheeseburger” picture to tell the person at the register, “I’d like to order a cheeseburger”
  • Pressing an icon on a device so that it speaks a message aloud.

AAC can help across a variety of settings, for example, in school, at work, and socially with peers and family.


Aided and unaided AAC systems.

AAC systems can be aided or unaided:

  • Aided systems require the use of other materials or devices. Aided systems include using braille, object symbols, a pen and paper for writing and paper-based systems (visuals). These systems are considered to be low-tech AAC.
  • Unaided systems involve using your body to communicate. Unaided AAC systems include gestures, body language, facial expressions and some signing.

High-tech AAC refers to more complex devices that have digital or electronic components. With high tech, you press an icon and the device “speaks” the word aloud. Like with low-tech AAC, the systems can be fixed or dynamic display.

A dedicated device means that the device is only used for communication purposes, whereas a   can be used for a variety of functions e.g. communication, taking photos, downloading and playing gaming applications.


AAC specialist speech pathologists.

Speech pathologists play an important role in supporting people with CCN to learn to communicate using AAC, especially in the early stages.

Some of the things they can assist with include:

  1. Assessing and trialling systems – fitting the device to your child, not the other way around
  2. Work on functional goals – ways to use the device in real life
  3. Training to help your child to communicate with the device
  4. Intervention sessions with you and your child
  5. A holistic team approach with your child’s support team.


Busting AAC myths.

Often families will raise concerns and express reluctance regarding their child using AAC due to other people’s attitudes, opinions or experiences. We would like to bust the myths!


Myth: AAC will stop my child from talking.

FACT: Research shows that many people demonstrate gains in their speech following AAC input. If a child is not talking or their speech is not developing, we need them to continue developing their language skills and have lots of success communicating. And we can do this with AAC!


Myth: I don’t think my child is able to use AAC.

FACT: There are no prerequisites to using AAC, you just need to give it a go! It is always important to presume the individual has the skills and motivation to learn.


Myth: Some speech is enough.

FACT: The more speech we have the better we can express ourselves. We just don’t communicate our needs and wants. We communicate about a lot more including giving information, asking questions, having a social chat, participating in activities and learning.


Myth: It’s too late to start using AAC.

FACT: It’s never too late!


How can you support your child’s communication?

  • Find a speech pathologist suitable for your child’s needs
  • Continue to interact and communicate with your child all the time
  • Model speech and language and model using AAC
  • And remember that one size doesn’t fit all.


Leap in! can help.

Leap in! helps thousands of Australian families navigate the NDIS with confidence. Get support for managing your child’s NDIS Plan and tailored advice from a team experienced with the Early Childhood Approach. Call our Crew on 1300 05 78 78 or email



  • Programs: Utilising the Principles of Conductive Education. Melbourne, Australia: Spastic Society of Victoria.
  • SCOPE Australia (2020), Communication-Aids-Myth-Busting-kids,
  • Tobi Dynavox (2017). Myth: An Individual Can be Too Impaired for AAC, Retrieved from Pathways for Core First iPad Application.
  • Tobi Dynavox (2017). Myth: Effect of AAC on Speech, Retrieved from Pathways for Core First iPad Application.
  • Tobi Dynavox (2017). Myth: Low-Tech Before High-Tech AAC, Retrieved from Pathways for Core First iPad Application.
  • Tobi Dynavox (2017). Myth: Some Speech or Basic Needs is Enough, Retrieved from Pathways for Core First iPad Application.
  • Tobi Dynavox (2017). Myth: Too Young to Use AAC, Retrieved from Pathways for Core First iPad Application.

[1] Porter, G. & Kirkland, J. Integrating Augmentative and Alternative Communication into Groups, 1995.