Augmentative and alternative communication takes many forms, and it can sometimes be confusing to sort out which is which – let alone make a choice about what is right for an individual. Right now there is a huge surge in the high tech options that are available for AAC as a result of the dropping cost of tablet computers and availability of app markets – both of which are great things for our field! However, sometimes having too many choices is a problem. Let’s lay down some broad stroke definitions here; meanwhile, we’ll be doing our best to have information about new voice output apps as they come available.
One way to think about AAC is as aided or unaided. An aided AAC system is one that requires a physical support, such as a voice output device or a picture exchange system. Unaided AAC is that which relies solely on the body and ability set of the user. We could think even of gesture and facial expressions as a form of unaided AAC, but sign language is the most obvious example of this type.
AAC systems then, in turn, can be high-tech, mid-tech, or low-tech. High tech AAC systems are essentially computers, whether in the form of an app on a tablet or an eye gaze system running on a PC. Mid-tech AAC employs an electronic component but not a full computer; an example of these would be a button or grid of buttons that can be recorded with messages. Finally, an aided, low-tech form of AAC would be one that employs non-electronic physical artifacts, like a picture exchange system.
A final way to think about AAC is as static or dynamic. A static system has a fixed set or grid of choices or icons that is not context-dependent or hierarchical. An example of this could be what is commonly referred to as a “choice board” – a set of four or eight options for a child to select from in order to, for example, take a break. Static AAC systems are frequently employed when a child is first being introduced to the concept of AAC, but dynamic systems will always be more versatile and offer a broader range of communicative options.