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What are all the different ways of communication?

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By Genevieve Waldie

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) awareness month is a global movement to introduce all the different ways of communication other than speech, including Key Word Sign, symbol-based communication systems and gesture.

Communication is a fundamental human need and right, bringing frustration for those who can’t make themselves understood. 

Speaking is one of the hardest things that people learn to do. It’s the result of rapid and precise movements, involving many parts of the mouth and larynx, coordinated with airflow of air, all of which may not be possible for people for a variety of reasons.

AAC can occur in many different forms. There is no right or wrong way, as long as the recipient understands the intended message, and users of the method figure out what works best for them. 

It is common for a person to use a couple of different language systems.

Key Word Sign (KWS) is the use of signs and gestures to support communication and language. It is one of the most widely applied strategies utilised by people of all ages who cannot communicate by speech alone.

Both children and adults who can benefit from KWS need people in their lives – family, friends, teachers, and support staff – to learn and use the method with them for proper communication support.


The 12-years-old Kate Mullins is a student at Red Hill Special School and a heavy user of communication systems. This month they are celebrating AAC Awareness with a range of activities.

At home, she mostly uses KWS with her family and friends, and at school, Kate also uses PODDs (Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display).

PODD is a book (or tech device) that contains symbols and words to support dialogue between people with complex communication needs and their family, friends, carers and support workers. 

As well as her school work, Kate loves using her AAC systems to play games like “Guess Who” and “Celebrity Head” and playing tricks on her friends and family.

Although Kate uses mostly non-verbal communication systems, she is a great communicator, storyteller and jokester. Enabled by her AAC systems, Kate communicates effectively and makes her voice heard.

For more information about AAC, go to

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