FAQs - AAC + Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


  • Why might an AAC system help my child, they have Autism?

About half of people autism do not develop enough speech to meet their needs (Wing & Attwood, 1987), and children with autism may have difficulties both understanding and producing speech. An AAC system offers an alternative format for communication that may help some children manage or overcome their communication difficulties. A good fit between an AAC system and a child with autism can help the child meet her communication needs and increase her communication, independence, interaction with others and quality of life.

  • I have seen some children with Autism using picture symbols, what is this?

A picture symbol system is an aided AAC system that is designed to build up children’s functional language skills.  One commonly used system is the Picture Exchange Communication System (Bondy & Frost, 1995).  Initially, a child is taught to exchange a picture of an item that they want for the actual item.  Children are encouraged to request items spontaneously.  As they progress, children are taught to make sentences, answer questions, produce comments and use adjectives.

Such a system is widely found to be effective for children and adults with autism.  Sometimes, this system can help increase speech in children with autism and their interaction with new people, as well as decrease problematic behaviours.

  • My child has a symbol system but doesn’t want to use it. Should we be doing something else?

A symbol system can take a long time for a child to learn and use.  Imagine an adult picking up a completely new instrument and then being expected to play in performances!  Pay particular attention to environments where your child may use the system spontaneously and environments where he may not seem motivated to use it.  Try modelling language using the symbol system and providing plenty of opportunities for your child to communicate his choices and opinions using the system.  If you have the opportunity, be sure to speak with your child’s speech and language therapist or teacher about his communication patterns and preferences and raise any concerns you have about the symbol system.

  • What organisations can help me understand about Autism?

The National Autistic Society ( provides information for people with autism and their family, carers, colleagues and employers.  The Society provides a wealth of information about education, health, employment and benefits.

Treating Autism ( runs a membership society, local support groups and national conferences.  This Society advocates and lobbies for a biomedical approach to autism.

Ambitious about Autism ( runs campaigns about autism and offers training and consultancy to parents, teachers and professionals who work with children with autism.  This organisation maintains Talk about Autism (, an online community that shares experiences, provides support and discusses autism.

The Autism Research Centre ( operates at the University of Cambridge.  The Centre investigates biomedical causes of autism and provides links to their current research and on going projects.  Volunteers with a diagnosis of autism are invited to participate in research.

Research Autism ( provides information about interventions for autism.

  • My child has Autism, is there anything that can be done to help them speak?

Sometimes, using an AAC system can help increase the speech production of a child with autism.  Importantly, using an AAC system does not hinder speech production in children with autism, so introducing an AAC system to a child with autism will not harm potential speech development.


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Although this information is believed to be accurate, you are strongly advised to make your own independent enquiries.

Last updated July 2013