Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) or Communication Aids

Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) or Communication Aids

Communication, for everyone, is a key human right. Speech & Language Therapists work with people who have difficulties communicating with others, and offer support if it’s needed, to help a person communicate to their full potential. 

 We all communicate in lots of different ways. We tend to think of speech, as the main way we communicate but we also use our facial expression, our body language, gesturing and lots of other methods.  We can communicate face-to-face, or use writing or texting to communicate at a distance. 

There are lots of reasons why someone might need help communicating. They may have a diagnosis such as Cerebral Palsy, or Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  They may have had a head injury, stroke, or other injury which impacted on their speech. For others, they may be diagnosed with a neurological condition such as Motor Neurone Disease, Friedreich’s Ataxia or Multiple Sclerosis. 

For some people their difficulties with communication may be temporary, while for others it may be a more permanent issue. 

For people who have difficulties, Speech & Language Therapists can explore other ways of communicating. 

Speech & Language Therapists will promote all the different ways a person can communicate, including speech, vocalising, gesturing, body language and Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) systems, if needed. 


A Speech & Language Therapist can support communication for:

  • people who are non-verbal 
  • people who are developing their speech and language skills 
  • people who need help understanding the language they hear around them


Supporting People who are Non-Verbal

Some people may be non-verbal, in other words, not use speech as a way to communicate with the people around them. This may be temporary, for example when someone is recovering from an injury or illness, or may be a more permanent issue, for example for some people with developmental conditions such as autistic spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and many other conditions. Some people develop neurological conditions that can change their speech over time. 


For people who struggle to make themselves understood, or for people who have no functional speech, communication systems can be a vital support.

A Speech & Language Therapist can help you examine what other ways you can communicate with the people around you, making sure you are able to express your needs and wants, and help you engage in the relationships that are important to you.

For lots of children, or for adults who are recovering from an injury, there may be a period of time when they might need to use alternative ways of communicating with the people around them. 

Communication systems can be a very useful tool to make sure that the person can express choices and interact with the people around them, while they work on developing their own speech and language skills. This can help reduce a person’s frustration, making sure they can communicate as effectively as possible with all the people in their life. 

Some of the strategies that a Speech & Language Therapist might suggest can also be a way of ‘teaching’ the concepts of language, and help the person to develop their own communication skills as effectively as possible. 

For some people, understanding the language they hear every day can be confusing or overwhelming. We all use lots of cues to help us understand what people are saying. For example, in a noisy environment, we may read a person’s lips if we can’t hear them, or watch their body language, facial expression or gestures. 

For lots of people who struggle to understand language, some simple communication strategies can really make a difference. This might involve using signing systems like Lámh, or showing the person some photos or symbols of the key information that you are trying to get them to understand.  A Speech & Language Therapist can help work out what suits each person best, and help train others in how to use these systems. 


A Speech & Language Therapist can show you communication systems, sometimes called AAC for short. 

These systems can be 

  • low tech - like a chart, a communication book
  • high tech - like an iPad, or other computer-based system

Both low and high tech systems can be simple or complex, depending on the user’s needs, and lots of people use a combination of both low and high tech to help them communicate. What type suits best is often based on the person’s needs within a particular environment. There may be a different need, for example, when communicating with family members, and when communicating with strangers. 

A Speech & Language Therapist can help explore your needs, across all of your communication environments. 

A Speech & Language Therapist can carry out an assessment to help you make a decision about what type of system will suit the needs of a person with a communication difficulty.  They might refer you to a specialist service as part of this assessment, or work closely with other healthcare professionals to help guide your choices around communication supports. 

Many people with communication difficulties will have challenges using standard technology like smartphones or tablet computers.  Speech & Language Therapists work closely with other professionals like Occupational Therapists and Clinical Engineers, to help people if they have difficulties with their hand function, their vision, or cognitive issues that mean typical ‘off-the-shelf’ equipment is not easy to use. There are a wide range of options to help make technology as easy as possible, and to suit a person’s unique needs.



We all use technology more and more as a way to keep in touch with people, and help make life easier and more convenient. Technology is a key tool for all of us in our daily lives, but for people with communication difficulties, both low and high tech communication systems can be a vital tool. 

If you would like some information regarding communication systems, please contact your local Primary Care Team in your local health centre, or you can ask your GP or Public Health Nurse to help make a referral. 

The Irish Message Banking Toolkit

The Irish Message Banking Toolkit Initiative is proudly supported by Research Motor Neurone (RMN) and The Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists (IASLT)

Updated on December 2020