You may not realize it, but we all use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) every day. From a shrug of a shoulder to indicate indifference to a thumbs-up to show solidarity, we all communicate in non-verbal ways. But when someone does not have the ability to speak, their expression becomes quite limited, leading to isolation, along with a number of developmental delays for children that can follow them well into adulthood. AAC devices provide exceptionally beneficial communication, giving users a voice that helps them connect to the world again. We help you determine the best AAC support for your loved ones in this review.
|1) Logan ProxTalker AAC Device Package|
|5) Go! Board Assistive Technology|
|4) BIGmack Multi-Color Communicator|
|3) Eye-Talks Communicator|
|2) Randomizer Assistive Communicator|
|1) Logan ProxTalker AAC Device Package|
Coming in at number 5 in our review, the Go! Board Assistive Technology by Enabling Devices helps children living with cognitive disabilities to stay on schedule with picture symbols. This unique and affordable non-voice AAC device comes with 8 icon holders that display pictures or symbols corresponding to various activities and tasks. Encouraging kids to complete the endeavor symbolized on the icon, the icon can be removed from the board once the activity has been done. A convenient pocket at the base of the board stores the used picture icons, keeping them organized in one place.
Often used in schools, daycare centers, therapy facilities, and at home, this simple but efficient augmentative and assistive communication device is completely customizable. Its tough and durable design withstands hard and heavy usage, yet it is super lightweight for easy transport and set up wherever you need it. The 8 icon holders use a clear mylar cover to protect and display the pictures and symbols, utilizing a brightly colored border to ensure easy visibility for low vision users. Create your own symbols and pictures, or use the Print It! Assistive Technology Icon Maker software that comes with 300 color icons.
Grabbing the 4th position on our list with its multifunctional versatility, the BIGmack Multi-Color Communicator by Ablenet also boasts one of the lowest price points for a recording and speaking augmentative and assistive communication device. Named for its large 5-inch activation area, the BIGmack provides plenty of tapping space for young users with low physical control. Its brightly colored disc tops come in blue, red, yellow, and green, making it easier to see for low vision users, and more fun to activate. Tested by third-party safety labs to ensure this AAC device is constructed with safe materials, the BIGmack is also engineered to be strong and durable, assuring it can withstand drops, harsh environmental conditions, and repetitive wear and tear.
Helping to facilitate communication for children living with verbal challenges, this popular ACC device can record a single message that’s up to 2 minutes long. It’s simple to record new messages on the fly throughout the day, providing opportunities for the user to communicate in almost any scenario. Switch-activated toys and appliances can also be connected to the BIGmack to add another level of enjoyment for children. The round activation area is made with soft-touch coating for comfortable tapping and holding, while the clear snap cover can hold other images besides the included color discs to personalize its use.
The eyes say it all with the popular and highly effective Eye-Talks Communicators by Enabling Devices, which takes the 3rd spot in our review. This non-voice eye gaze communication board works by tracking the user’s eye movement. Various messages or symbol icons are attached to the board, such as words like yes and no, along with the alphabet, short phrases, numbers, and sad and happy faces. To communicate effectively, the child directs their gaze to select these options on the board while the person they’re communicating with observes and tracks their eye movement to ascertain what the child is saying.
Eye gaze communicators are especially helpful for children living with total immobility or very limited movement, including kids with cerebral palsy or spinal cord injuries. Often utilized in classrooms, therapy centers, at home, and on the go, they provide an important outlet for expression, connection, and interaction. The Eye-Talks board comes with two height-adjustable triangle stands, offering the add-on option of a gooseneck clip clamp that can attach the board to a wheelchair, bed rail, or table edge, enabling customized positioning. The clear, shatter-resistant plastic board is lightweight for simple portability and durable for long-lasting performance. Its self-adhesive picture/icon holding strip can be cut to the desired length to attach messages and phrases of your choosing.
The Randomizer Assistive Communicator by Adaptivation comes in at number 2 in our review with its amazing scope of applications across a wide range of settings. As a sequential communicator that plays back messages in random order, the Randomizer offers two recording levels and three playback options. Children or their caregivers, teachers, or parents can record messages of up to 90 seconds in length for each level, for a total of three minutes of recording time. Playback modes include single message mode, jumble mode where messages will play back in random order, and eliminator mode where messages occur in random order, but once a message is played, it is not played again until all the messages have been played.
Ideal for gaming, classroom activities, and at home, the Randomizer is frequently utilized for entertainment, education, and a wide array of other endeavors. Use the eliminator mode to choose members of a team, roll call, or games like Bingo, as any given message will not be repeated until all of the others have been selected. The Randomizer’s multifunctional uses include game participation like Red Rover, Simon Says, and Duck-Duck-Goose, while its learning uses include vocabulary matching, counting money, and sentence starters. For youngsters unable to manually activate the device, this innovative voice-output communication aid can be connected to an external adaptive switch for easier operation. Battery-operated switch toys can also be connected, activated by the Randomizer to add another dimension of fun and enjoyment for non-verbal children.
Well-deserving of its number one spot on our list, the Logan ProxTalker AAC Device Package by Proxtalker (LoganTech) is one of the most well-loved and often-talked-about augmentative and alternative communication devices available today. Utilizing RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, the ProxTalker is the first picture communication system to actually talk. This exciting mid-tech AAC device retrieves vocabulary stored on sound tags to produce real, audible words, storing up to 1,000 minutes of 8-second sound tags. Super easy to use, the ProxTalker doesn’t require software or a pc - just pick a tag, place it on a button, press it, and it speaks! Its inbuilt microphone allows you to record your own tags, or you can choose a female or male voice to speak a wide range of pre-recorded sound tags in multiple language options; the package comes with 80 pre-recorded tags, along with an add-on option of pre-programmed educational sound tags that are perfect for school and classroom applications.
As the most advanced and adaptable recorded speech communication device, the Logan ProxTalker is constructed in a robust and water-resistant design to ensure long-lasting functionality and performance. Battery-powered, with adjustable volume, this unique AAC device weighs less than 5 pounds and comes with its own backpack carrier, making it lightweight and portable for easy carrying and transport. It’s also conveniently wheelchair or wall mountable in its binder format. Providing exceptional benefits for children living with cognitive, physical, and communicative challenges, the ProxTalker not only helps them to communicate but to also develop intelligible speech. This unrivaled AAC support helps break down barriers to allow children full inclusion and participation in education, leisure, and independent living.
Selecting the appropriate AAC device requires an understanding of your child’s strengths and limitations, along with a basic comprehension of the different AAC methodologies and technologies. Relying on an experienced speech-language pathologist (SLP) to assist in this decision-making process who works in conjunction with your child’s healthcare and therapy team is a crucial factor in finding the most helpful and appropriate AAC support.
Considerations include determining your child’s cognitive and physical abilities, along with their fine motor skill development. Figuring out what motivates your child to communicate and the most important vocabulary relevant to them will also help to establish the best AAC options to meet their unique requirements. Here are some of the most important features and types of AAC to look for:
Referring to how letters, words, sentences, and phrases are organized in the AAC device’s communication software, choosing the correct language system will support your child in reaching their full communication potential. While some systems rely mostly on the alphabet for older children who can spell their thoughts, other systems represent words and phrases using icons, pictures, or symbols for younger children unable to spell and read. It’s often recommended by SLPs to select a system that allows the transition from learning first words to more complex communication, enabling the device to ‘grow with your child’ as their language develops and expands through the years.
Offering a variety of alternate access options to enable children living with physical impairments to operate the device, AAC equipment generally provides two basic means of access - direct and indirect selection. This diversity of selection methods ensures that even children with severe limitations can operate and communicate with an AAC device.
Facilitating immediate contact with the device’s display, direct selection methods include touch using a finger, hand, toe, or stylus. The direct selection formats also include mousing with a joystick, trackball mouse, or head-mounted mouse, or eye gaze boards where the user directs their gaze to a specific phrase, word, or symbol to make a selection.
Indirect selection methods are available on some AAC devices, using specialized hardware or software to define input from a source that’s not a physical keyboard. Switch scanning is the most common indirect selection method, with the user activating a switch at the moment the needed letter, word, or symbol is highlighted. A wide variety of adaptable switches correspond to the user’s ability, including pneumatic sip or puff, specific movement, squeezing, and the relaxation and contraction of a body part.
Also known as Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs), the augmentative and alternative communication devices that produce sound come in several different types to suit a wide variety of special needs:
Single Message AAC - Specifically designed to speak a recorded message when it’s activated with a touch, a single message VOCA helps youngsters to communicate and participate. If the child is non-verbal, a parent, teacher, therapist, or caregiver can record the message for them, which the child can playback whenever they want. New messages can be recorded over old messages.
Message Sequencer AAC - AAC devices that offer message sequencing enable the recording of a series of messages that can be played back with the press of a switch. Sequential VOCAs typically speak the next message in the sequence, while random sequencers enable messages to be spoken in random order, a helpful tool for gaming, learning, and other activities.
Overlay ACC - Overlays are placed over a keyboard, using pictures, symbols, and words for the user to select. Once the user hits the corresponding icon, the ACC device will speak the word, phrase, or sentence chosen. Overlay VOCAs may have several levels with different messages so they can be used in similar situations without needing to re-record. Overlay AAC devices may come with pre-recorded speech and/or offer direct recording by the parent.
Dynamic Screen AAC - Although they are similar to overlay VOCAs, dynamic screen AAC devices display graphics and symbols on a screen instead of hard-copy overlays. They offer a variety of set-up configurations to suit the specific needs of every child, with multiple pages of symbols, phrases, words, and pictures. The user chooses which page to display. Like the overlay AAC, parents and children can set up pages to correspond to different situations and activities throughout the day, making it easier to find the words they need to communicate. They can be used by both literate and non-reading children.
How the AAC device will be used will determine what kinds of accessories to look for. If the child will be using the device at a desk or while sitting in a wheelchair, it will be important to add mounting equipment to attach and position the device on a wheelchair or to a desktop. If it’s a handheld device, then a carrying case would be helpful for easier portability and protection. Keyguards and touch guides can help children who have unsteady hands, while larger-sized sound tags are easier to see for kids with low vision. Larger activation areas and/or being switch-adaptable can greatly benefit youngsters with spasticity and low control.
Because it needs to withstand a child’s rough handling, the AAC device you choose for your child must be designed for durability. Be sure to select robust formats that can travel with your child to therapy sessions, school, playdates, and other destinations, as AAC support should always be available for communication wherever the child may roam.
A: Augmentative and alternative communication helps to supplement or compensate for impairments in speech and language production in both children and adults. Abbreviated as AAC, this type of communication is considered augmentative when it’s used to add to existing speech, and alternative when it’s used in place of absent or non-functional speech. Falling under the broader umbrella of assistive technology, AAC can also be used for speech-language comprehension deficits, along with impairments to understanding written language, as well.
A: Augmentative communication complements existing speech, using a variety of tools and techniques to help children and adults better express their needs, wants, feelings, thoughts, and ideas. One example of augmentative communication is manual signs or gestures, using body language and facial expressions to more effectively communicate.
A: Some of the most popular augmentative communication devices include the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which uses symbols and pictures that speak when the icon is pressed, such as the popular Logan ProxTalker. Other favorites, like the single message and sequential message voice output communication aids (VOCAs), can record customized messages to play that can be conveniently re-recorded as needed.
A: Adults and children who live with limitations or impairments to speech/verbalization, language, writing, or reading often use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). People with congenital disorders such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and apraxia, neurological differences like autism, and other conditions that cause communication disabilities often derive great benefits from using AAC devices. Speech-generating devices can also help some users to develop better speech, while they also help kids learn language and reading comprehension skills.
A: The latest scientific research has demonstrated that AAC devices do NOT impede the development of natural speech. In fact, the introduction of AAC support actually correlates with the improvement of natural speech, even in situations where there was no speech therapy. Most experts recommend a combination of speech therapy and the use of augmentative and alternative communication devices to facilitate the best patient outcomes for children and adults challenged with various speech-language disorders.
A: AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This can take the form of unaided AAC and aided AAC. Unaided AAC requires some level of motor control and includes body language, fingerspelling, and facial expressions, while aided AAC utilizes some kind of external low-tech or high-tech electronic or non-electronic device or tool, such as communication boards, single/sequential message devices, and recordable/speaking tools.
Children who are unable to communicate and express themselves cannot participate in a meaningful way in many activities and are at a greater risk for cognitive, emotional, and social developmental delays. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices deliver crucial communication support, providing an immediate connection for kids who are non-verbal or those who are struggling to learn or regain speech abilities.
Available in a wide array of options that include low-tech, non-speaking AAC devices like eye-gaze boards to high-tech digital AAC devices like dynamic AAC software for smartphones, tablets, and computers, this equipment is diverse to more effectively fulfill the differing special needs of its users.
All of the AAC devices we included in our review are great choices for various needs, but the Logan ProxTalker AAC Device Package is our top selection as it’s one of the most beloved and talked-about augmentative and alternative communication devices available today. Innovating the industry with its RFID technology, the ProxTalker from LoganTech offers extensive sound tag storage, the ability to record your own tags or use machine-generated speech, and a versatile, easy-to-use design that both kids and adults love! It’s perfect for non-verbal children as well as children learning or re-learning how to talk.
We invite you to peruse our comprehensive Speech and Communication Technology catalog to learn about more options for both pediatric and adult speech and communication support. You can also check out more valuable information for special needs families and find great caregiving support at our educational Caregiver University blog.
Co-Founder of Rehabmart and an Occupational Therapist since 1993. Mike has spent his professional career working in multiple areas of Occupational Therapy, including pediatrics, geriatrics, hand therapy, ergonomics and inpatient / outpatient rehabilitation. Mike enjoys writing articles that help people solve complex therapeutic problems and make better product choices.