AAC Devices: What They Are and How You Can Get One For Your Autistic Child

AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication. AAC includes any type of communication that is not speech – sign language, choice boards, body language.

This article goes over the basics of robust AAC systems and how you can get one for your autistic child.

What is an AAC Device?

The phrase AAC device sounds like something super complicated. In reality, most AAC “devices” are simply apps downloaded on an iPad or a tablet. Some of them are symbol-based (using pictures). Others are text-based (using letters). Many are multimodal (using both).

One of my children started using a symbol-based app when he was four. It’s called Proloquo2Go. Now that he’s older, he’s starting to use the keyboard within the app to type. The app lets him switch between the two modes easily.

The Proloquo2Go App on an iPad

Who can benefit from an AAC device?

Any child who isn’t developing speech in a typical way, should have access to an AAC device. The earlier the better! The fact that doctors prescribe behavioral interventions without mentioning AAC is highly unethical in my opinion, but that’s a topic for another day.

AAC DOES NOT hinder speech development. If anything, these devices can help develop language for all children.

The overall goal for any child is to enhance communication. The more a child can communicate, the happier that child will be. Communication is a human right.

When should I ask about an AAC device?

Yesterday! No seriously. There are no prerequisites to using it. If your child can take your phone and watch YouTube or play a game, they can use an AAC device!

Disclaimer: Insurances may require a minimum age for funding, but we’ll get to that below!

If your therapist or doctor discourages you from attaining an AAC device, I would advise you to find another provider if you can. If not, send them a few links from this article. I’m trying to include a lot of reputable links.

How can I get an AAC device for my autistic child?

Option One:

You can buy an iPad (or Android tablet depending on which program you choose) and download the app yourself. Make sure you get a durable case with a kickstand. That’s really all you need to get started!

Robust AAC apps range in price from $100 – $300. Almost all of them go on sale twice a year – in April and October – usually for 50% off! (Each app sets their own sale dates during these months, so pay attention to that.)

Here are the sales and dates for October 2021 via Lauren S. Enders:

AAC Sales for October 2021
via Lauren S. Enders

I can’t speak for all AAC apps, but I figured out how to use Proloquo2Go as soon as I turned it on. The company also has Facebook groups, free training videos, and great customer support. I bet other robust AAC companies are the same way.

There are lots of free AAC apps, but they aren’t robust systems.

Option Two:

You can also get an AAC device through your child’s doctor. Most health insurances in the U.S. will cover the cost. This is the route I took for my child because I didn’t realize I could buy it myself. I thought AAC devices were actual machines that only did one thing.

Insurance companies often have minimum age requirements and proof that speech therapy ‘isn’t working.’ These requirements are trash, but I wanted you to be aware.

DO NOT let these requirements discourage you from starting the process. The sooner you get started, the better!

If you choose this route, here’s how to do it:

  1. Ask your child’s doctor for a referral for an assistive technology assessment, also called an AAC assessment. You do not need to wait for your next appointment or make an additional appointment for the doctor to do this. They can simply call in the referral or fax it.

  2. Schedule the assessment and go. If your insurance doesn’t require referrals for specialists, you can skip number one and make the appointment yourself. Some children’s hospitals have AAC clinics. Others do the assessment in their speech therapy offices.

    During the appointment, the therapists will try out several systems to see which one “fits” your child best. They’ll also check to see if your child needs any add-ons like a grid guard or a mount.

  3. Getting your child’s device: While you’re at the assessment, ask questions about your options! Ask about in-network distributers and what the process will be for your specific insurance.

    This process varies depending on your insurance requirements. Some insurances make it easy and mail the device right away. If you go to an AAC clinic, they may have their own way of doing it.

    Unfortunately, some insurances require the child to complete a trial period with mandated training sessions using a rental device. This was the year-long process we went through. While I did find value the therapy sessions, it definitely took maximum effort to meet all the requirements.
Communication Bill of Rights by Kate Ahern

Getting AAC at School

If your child has an IEP, you can request an assistive technology assessment. Put the request in an email so it is documented. (Documentation is always best practices.)

This process will ensure that your child has continuous access to a device at school because it will be included in the IEP.

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Further Reading

This article is meant to be a quick overview. You can find more information at these links:

Information on AAC ~ Therapist Neurodiversity Collective

My Favorite Facebook Learning Group: Ask Me, I’m an AAC User

What is AAC? ~AssistiveWare

All About AAC ~ Just Keep Stimming

CoughDrop is an open source AAC app that can be used on multiple platforms.

LAMP is another robust AAC

A Resource List for teaching nonspeaking students how to spell, point, or type

100-ish Books on Autism and Neurodiversity – There is an entire section dedicated to nonspeaking authors.

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