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Augmentative and Alternative Communication

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

AAC supports or replaces speech or writing for communication. AAC can take the form of low-tech communication systems such as:

  • Pen and paper
  • Objects
  • Signing
  • Books with pictures or symbols

High-tech communication systems need some sort of power to work. Computers and tablets that convert text, pictures or symbols to speech fit into this category.

Who are we?

We are a team of AAC and IT professionals. We offer support with the use of high-tech voice output AAC devices within the school and home.

The team consists of:

  • AAC Technical Officers that support the assessment process, programming and repairs
  • An AAC adviser who can support home and education settings with the use of the device

What do we do?

Our goal is to ensure that people who need to use high-tech AAC have access to appropriate levels of high-quality specialist assessment and support. We achieve this by working collaboratively with the home and education setting to deliver assessment, training, advice and device maintenance where appropriate.

The AAC Team use a multi-agency approach. This involves professionals working with an individual child or young person from other education and health teams.

There are two main routes to request a high-tech AAC assessment, via CAACAT or AAC West:

Cornwall AAC Assessment Team (CAACAT)

CAACAT is a multi-agency team based in Cornwall and can provide an assessment up until the young person's 18th birthday. It is made up of professionals from Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) and Cornwall Council.

Referrals to CAACAT are through the student’s speech and language therapist only. CAACAT provide assessments up until the young person's 18th birthday.

Further advice can be found by contacting

Referral Criteria 

The student must:

  • Be a resident of Cornwall
  • Have a GP in Cornwall
  • Have a comprehension level above their expressive level, as determined by a Speech and Language Therapist
  • Understand and can demonstrate cause and effect
  • Show Intentional Communication and has demonstrated the use of a communication device
  • Be able to generate at least one form of consistent and reliable movement, e.g. hand, eyes, foot
  • Have a communication system in place, e.g. signing, communication book with evidence of use across 2 settings (e.g. home/school)
  • Have had experience of using a speech output device, e.g. Big Mack, Go Talk, iPad app
  • Have adults in all settings show an ongoing commitment to AAC (home/educational settings)
  • Have more than one skilled communication partner in each setting


Currently Cornwall Council’s AAC Team provide Apple devices for communication purposes. 

The decision to use these devices is based on:

  • Experience
  • Research
  • The needs of the child or young person

Assessment Process

The Assessment Process includes a casework meeting, trial of equipment and reviews, training and the closure of the assessment: 

Casework Meeting

CAACAT will organise an initial meeting called a casework meeting.

This should be attended by:

  • The student
  • Parents/carers
  • Speech and Language Therapist
  • Education setting
  • Other professionals

We cannot conduct the meeting without parents/carers and setting staff present. CAACAT might ask to see videos of the student communicating at or before the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting is to:

  • Have an open discussion on the communication needs of the student
  • Offer a range of trial devices that may meet the student's needs
  • Agree which equipment to trial and how to set this up for accessibility
  • Set and agree goals for the trial period for home and for the education setting

Trial of Equipment and Reviews

The AAC Technical Officer will order the agreed equipment. They will also programme the software as agreed at the casework meeting. Each device is set-up bespoke to each student and so there will be some liaison to agree the correct vocabulary.

The AAC Technical Officer will deliver the equipment and show the young person, parents/carers and school staff how to use it.

The Specialist Speech and Language Therapist will organize review meetings with the parents/carers and educational setting. There may be one or more reviews.

The reviews will focus on:

  • The needs of the student
  • What is going well with the AAC device
  • What needs to improve
  • Progress on the goals set at the casework meeting

The current equipment trial may continue or finish. Sometimes a new trial of equipment starts if the current equipment is not right for the student.

Training and Closure of the Assessment

At the end of the trial, training will be given to the student, parents/carers and the educational setting. The student's trial will finish and the student can loan the equipment on a long-term basis. There are restrictions and agreements for the loan.

There will be no further involvement from CAACAT unless the equipment does not meet the student's needs.

Cornwall Council's AAC Team provide the long-term support for the use of the equipment. The student's Speech and Language Therapist can also continue to support the student if appropriate.

Every two years, CAACAT will contact the parents/carers to review the equipment.

AAC West

AAC West are a specialist NHS hub for high-tech AAC. AAC West carry out assessments for those young people with more complex access needs or those over the age of 18.

AAC West is commissioned by NHS England to provide an AAC service to the South West of England and they work with both adults and children. There are teams based in Bristol and Plymouth.

CAACAT is able to refer a student for an assessment by AAC West. CAACAT will then support the referral process alongside the student's speech and language therapist. Once an assessment by AAC West is complete, and equipment is loaned, the AAC Team can support the student longer-term.

To find out more about AAC West please visit the AAC West of England Specialist Services website.

The AAC Adviser can offer support to students who have an AAC device on loan to them. The support is short-term and outcomes-focussed. The adviser can assess the student's ability to use the device in the educational setting. They can also suggest targets and monitor progress.

The AAC Adviser can also:

  • Support with differentiating the curriculum and modifying teaching approaches
  • Assess the impact of language and communication difficulties on a pupil's access to the curriculum
  • Advise and support with appropriate learning targets
  • Promote a total communicative approach within the school setting
  • Provide training on use of the hardware and software
  • Promote successful transitions
  • Signpost to documentation and resources for implementation in school and ongoing professional development
  • Advise on exam access arrangements

The adviser can also support with exam access arrangements for students using high-tech AAC.

Please see the latest exams access guidance below:

AAC Exams Access Working Group for the academic year 2022/23.

AAC Exams Access Working Group for the academic year 2023/24.

We offer a range of free training to students and adults supporting them in using high-tech AAC equipment and can signpost to training opportunities provided by others.

See what training we offer

Professionals can access all training through our Services for Schools platform.

Bespoke training

Training given to the student and the adults supporting them at the end of the trial period. This will enable all to programme the software they are using for long-term use.

AAC STEPS to Success training

The course provides the foundation steps for success at implementing the equipment. We encourage parents/carers and education staff to attend this training during or immediately after the trial.

The aims of AAC STEPS to Success training include:

  • Develop greater awareness of the high-tech AAC journey including challenges
  • Explore Means, Reasons and Opportunities and how these impact the young person’s communication
  • Consider what makes a good Communication Partner
  • Understand the difference between Core and Fringe vocabulary
  • Realise the importance of a total communication approach in all settings
  • Empower you to develop the young person’s communication through Modelling and the Prompt Hierarchy
  • Be aware of further support networks to develop and enhance the young person’s communication and the supporting adult’s skills
  • Have an opportunity to meet other parents/carers and professionals with young people who are on the high-tech AAC journey

Video Resources

We have created a YouTube channel where you can access clips and films that you provide you with support on how to use AAC technology.

Visit our AAC Video Resources YouTube Channel

Strategies for Success

A Guide to Modelling

This guide outlines why modelling using the communication aid is vital for a student to develop their AAC skills.

Circles of Communication Partners

A great tool for target setting, Circles of Communication Partners focusses on who the student is able to communicate well with and who needs further support to communicate well with the student.

Core and Fringe Vocabulary

Core words make up 80% of the words we use everyday, fringe words make up the other 20%. This resource gives you examples of both and shows you why it is important to focus on and teach core words.

Parent Carer Implementation Pack

This guide is useful for parents and carers who are new to using high-tech AAC devices. It shares some excellent strategies for success, has some suggested games to play at home and busts some common myths around learning to use AAC.

The Four Competencies for AAC

This guide outlines the four main competency areas for AAC. It’s a useful tool for target setting when you are unsure of what your student needs to work on next in terms of developing their AAC skills.

Me and My AAC

A one page summary of the student’s AAC device and how to communicate well with the student. It is useful for new staff coming in to the setting such as supply staff, new staff members and as a summary on the student’s communication needs. This should be created for every student using AAC. The document has an example and a blank copy for you to adapt.

General Resources and Useful Guides

How to be a good Communication Partner

A printable document to put up in your classroom and remind us all of what we need to do to be a good communication partner.

Top Tips for Mainstream Settings

A handy guide to give you some great tips in implementing a device in a mainstream school or area resource base (ARB).

AAC and Literacy 

A handy guide for classrooms on ensuring that AAC devices are well embedded in literacy lessons. Useful for both primary and secondary settings.

Solutions for AAC

If you’re having a difficulty with implementing a device, check these common problems and solutions to guide you.

How to be Inclusive with AAC

This is another great printable resource that reminds us how to ensure that we are being inclusive in our practices.

The term ‘transition’ describes the life changes that a student may go through. Key Transition points include moving from:

  • Class to class
  • Early years to Primary School
  • Primary School to Secondary School
  • Secondary School to work, college or university
  • Leaving education

It is important to ensure a smooth transition when any of these changes occur. For all transitions it is important to share information on how a student uses their high-tech AAC.

For those students who have a high-tech AAC device on loan from the Council will have support from their AAC technical officer until they are 25, leave education or move out of county.

When students leave education or move out of county the support service will stop and those with devices on loan from Cornwall Council may have the device gifted. Parents and carers will then be responsible for the device.

It is important that settings prepare for transitions and start to plan ahead. Settings should invite AAC Tech Officers to the EHCP review along with other professionals involved to ensure they can meet the team and make plans for training and support for the new class or setting.

It is important to remember to share information such as passwords and other important information.

You can use the 'AAC Transition Checklist' to remind you of what to check and what information needs to be handed over, and the ‘Me and My AAC’ sheet to create a summary of key information:

As part of our communications with parents/carers and settings of students using high-tech AAC, we are creating regular newsletters. Each newsletter contains team updates, resources, video links and information about suppliers. 

To access our newsletter:

Bristol Centre for Enablement | AAC West

Provides specialist NHS England AAC Assessments for children and young people in Cornwall with more complex communication aid needs.

Communication Matters

A charitable organisation which covers all of the UK. Their website provides information, events and resources about education and research in the field of AAC.

AAC and Education Online Learning Modules

A website for AAC guidance and advice with great links to videos, online learning modules and downloadable resources.

Talking with Tech AAC

An American-based high-tech AAC podcast that is released weekly. Each episode discusses one element of AAC and has guest interviewees with celebrated AAC experts from around the world. Although based around American processes, the tools, strategies and AAC systems that are discussed are useful for all those on their AAC journey.

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