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Alternative & Augmentative Communication

Disclaimer: This information sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

What is it?

The term Augmentative really means to supplement, aide or add to. Therefore augmentative communication means to add to or supplement a child's existing communication system, including any type of spoken, gestural, and / or written abilities the child may have.

Following a brain injury, some children may experience significant difficulty communicating using speech or language. These children may require some extra assistance to help them communicate more effectively.

There are several types of augmentative communication devices, ranging from simple unaided systems, such as signs or gestures, to advanced high tech computer aided devices.

Some examples of augmentative communications systems are:

  • Signs and gestures
  • Symbols eg. pictures, tactile feeling boards, real objects, printed words etc
  • Light/low technology systems eg. communication books/boards, switches etc
  • High technology eg. speech output systems, sound picture boards, computers etc

Will augmentative communication help my child ?

Depending on the nature and severity of a child's communication impairment different types of systems may be useful to a child. It is common for communication problems to change from the acute stage of recovery through to the final stages of recovery. In many cases the type of augmentative communication system may change as the child's communication needs change.

Who will assess and select the most suitable communication aid?

Selecting the best communication system for a child requires a comprehensive evaluation and assessment which is generally conducted by a Speech Pathologist. However at times, other health professionals may be involved, they might include an Occupational Therapist and communication technologist and even an engineer.

Several factors may influence the type of system chosen, these may include a child's visual perception, memory, new learning, cognitive flexibility, attention span and any physical disabilities they may have. Other areas of consideration may include, the child's environment including any factors which may effect the use of a system, previous knowledge or use of technology, mobility and size of the device, the number of communication partners and the possible length of time a system may be required.

If a long term device or high technology devises are required, then a specialist referral may be made to an outside agency. This referral may involve a team of professionals and may be conducted either at the centre, at home or at school. Specialist services generally provide assessment and trials of various symbol or electronic devices and will recommend the most suitable system for the child. These services do not provide on going therapy or follow up and may incur a fee for the assessment.

All children and their families will require some degree of training to effectively use their augmentative communication system, therefore on going therapy will usually be continued with your local speech pathologist. Your speech pathologist will generally provide training for the child and family, as well as the child's teachers and/or carers.


Always consult a Speech Pathologist if you have any concerns with your child's communication.

The Children's Hospital at Westmead Rehabilitation Department
The Children's Hospital at Westmead
Cnr Hawkesbury Rd & Hainsworth St, Westmead
Locked Bag 4001, Westmead, 2145
Tel: (02) 9845 2132 - Fax: (02) 9845 0685

© The Children's Hospital at Westmead - 1997-2013

This document was published on Friday, 6 June 2003

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