Using AAC with a Person with Autism Spectrum Disorder

I'm a huge nerd when it comes to working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. 

You see, I wrote a graduate thesis and another paper on children with ASD and children with developmental language disorder, or DLD. 

I can't tell you how many research articles I have read on ASD. 

I also can't keep count of the number of people I have worked with who have ASD. 

It was never my intention to seek out working with individuals with autism, it just kind of happened!

And I'm so very glad it did.

I would like to mention that many people with ASD prefer the label-first name, for example, autistics or autistic person. In the academic realm, person-first language is preferred. I often use person-first language (e.g., person with ___), however I completely respect and will sometimes use label-first language out of respect for the autistic community. It is never my intention to offend or hurt a person who identifies either way, and please know that I respect your right to choose how you are labeled (or not labeled, for that matter).

AAC and autism are a great match!

In case you're new around here, AAC = Augmentative Alternative Communication.

Even with some children with ASD who are speaking, I will use core vocabulary boards to enhance their verbal expression. Language delay is extremely common with individuals with ASD, and can affect their understanding of language (comprehension) and expression of language. AAC can help with comprehension and expression if language is indeed the target of the therapy.

Many people with autism are nonspeaking and need AAC

According to the National Autism Association, approximately 40% of individuals with autism are nonspeaking. 

This means that 40% of people with ASD need AAC. Not "should have," "should be evaluated for AAC," but need AAC. Communication is a human right. 

Many times I have met older children with autism who had never been evaluated for a high-tech or low-tech communication device.

Or, maybe they had low-tech AAC and no longer use it. Or, they were evaluated for high-tech AAC once and it "failed." Note: No one can fail to use a device, it may mean that it wasn't the correct system for that person, or it was not implemented well. 

I am not trying to play the blame-game. I want people to understand that there are technologies available and systems available that can serve nonspeaking individuals with autism that gives them a voice. 

High-tech AAC is not too complex for children with autism

Once you know how to modify high-tech systems and assess children with ASD with a high-tech system, you begin to realize that it's not too cognitively complex for children to use. Heck, most of these kids are more technologically savvy than me! I actually don't take IQ or cognitive abilities into account when I choose an AAC system. I look at their language abilities, access, fine motor control to access the system, positioning, vision, hearing, and take data after introducing a system to see if it is successful (successful meaning they can access the system and express themselves using language on the system). 

How to get started with AAC if you know a child with autism

In a perfect world, you would be able to find a speech-language pathologist in your child's school or in your area that provides high-tech AAC evaluations. This is not always the case, but it's worth looking around.

Contacting a representative from Tobii Dynavox or Prentke Romich Company may be a good start- they may know an SLP in your area that works with high-tech AAC and performs evaluations.

Again, this may not work for everyone, as some speech-language pathologists are declining and not recommending high-tech devices for children who are nonspeaking. I would like to note, that the American Speech Language Hearing Associations supports the use of AAC with individuals who are nonspeaking and is a great resource for SLPs to reference when working with nonspeaking individuals.

One thing a parent can do, without the support of a professional, is purchase a speech generating iPad app (iOs systems have the most AAC apps available) or AAC app to use on a personally owned iPad. This is not always ideal, as there is no way to usually trial the app before purchasing it (and they are typically around $299.99). If the pricing is intimidating, I would recommend starting a Go Fund Me for the iPad and app costs. 

Another alternative to high-tech AAC is to have a robust (meaning many words) low-tech system in place (e.g., a communication book or core vocabulary boards). This is considerably less expensive. However, it does not provide voice output and can be more cumbersome. Mid-tech AAC (e.g., GoTalk) is also a possibility, these are usually a few hundred dollars for private purchase and have less words available than a high-tech system can. However, it would have recorded voice output. 

In other words, AAC + Autism = Amazingness

I would whole-heartedly support the use of AAC with someone with autism who is nonspeaking, no matter their physical or cognitive impairments (if there are any). It's a tool to help foster communication and it's a human right for anyone and everyone to have access to communication. 

Please leave a comment if you have any questions!

With gratitude,




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