FAQs - AAC + developmental difficulties

  • My child has learning difficulties, can AAC help them?

'Learning difficulties' is a very broad term, and everyone with learning difficulties is different. If a child has problems in understanding or using spoken language they might benefit from some form of AAC. This could be the use of signs or symbols, or a communication aid. Which system or systems to use depends on the individual child and the people they are communicating with.

  • What types of support could my child get to learn to communicate better?

The first point of support to help your child develop their skills should be their speech and language therapist (SLT). If they need AAC then a therapist with specialist knowledge in this field should offer an assessment. If there is no local SLT with these skills then you can ask for an assessment by a regional specialist centre.

When an AAC system or systems have been identified for your child there is an on-going need for teaching, support and review for the user and their carers. Ideally this would be provided by your local SLT team or specialist teachers, possibly with support from regional AAC centres.

There are also groups such as 1Voice which offer support for families and role models for young AAC users, to support their communication development.

  • What does developmental disability mean? Will they get better?

'Developmental disability' is an umbrella term that covers lots of different diagnoses and refers to disabilities which mean that a child does not follow the usual developmental course of childhood. It is often present from birth but might not be identified until later in childhood.

Developmental disability is when the overall development of a child differs from the typical in either the rate of achieving milestones or the order in which the milestones are reached. It can affect one or more skill areas including: physical development, learning, speech and communication, social skills.

Some people who have been described as having a developmental disability might 'catch up' over time; others will not do so and might always have a greater or lesser degree of difficulty.

  • Will they always need help with communication?

Again it is not possible to give one answer that will apply to everyone diagnosed with developmental disability. There is evidence to show that introducing AAC systems to support their communication will not prevent the development of speech. By giving support to develop skills through AAC individuals then have the option of stopping using the system if they no longer need it. Some people with developmental disabilities will go on to develop successful communication skills; others will need on-going support throughout their lives.


Glossary: Developmental-learning disability

List of UK Assessment Services

A comparison of picture exchange and speech-generating devices: Acquisition, preference, and effects on social interaction

AAC and young children with disabilities - review (summary)

van der Meer L, Sigafoos J, O'Reilly MF, Lancioni GE. Assessing preferences for AAC options in communication interventions for individuals with developmental disabilities: A review of the literature. Research in Developmental Disabilities. 2011;32(5):1422-31.

Mirenda P, Hamm B. Post-School Quality of Life for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Who Use AAC. AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication. 2006;22(2):134-47.

Mirenda P. Sheltered employment and augmentative communication: An oxymoron? AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication. 1996;12(3):193-7.


Contact a Family



National Autistic Society

The Communication Trust

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

Last updated January 2014