By Beth Waite, MA-CCC/SLP-ATP
Technology means something different to each of us. To some, it means texting, playing video games, and using social media like Facebook and Twitter. To others, it may mean online banking, email, word processing, smart phones, and iPads. But for people who have severe communication disorders, technology can be the best way to express thoughts, feelings, ideas, and needs. This may include people with developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, and cognitive disorders, as well as those with acquired disorders such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, or neuromuscular disease. According to the American Speech and Hearing Association, there are over 2 million people in theUnited Stateswith significant expressive language impairments who can use Augmentative Alternative communication (AAC) strategies. Augmentative Alternative Communication refers to a set of tools and strategies that an individual with speech difficulties uses to communicate. The famous scientist Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most well-known AAC communicator.
October has also been deemed Augmentative Communication Awareness month by the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. While speech may be the primary strategy that most of us use, everyone uses different forms of communication based upon the situation and communication partners. For the nonverbal person, this includes low tech options such as sign language, gestures, speech and body language as well as devices with speech output. Today’s technology makes it possible for those with speech difficulties to “speak” using a computerized communication device. Some of these devices also serve to help with written communication by attaching to a computer and enabling the person to print the messages they can “speak.” There are also numerous apps for the iPad and Android tablet that can be used for communication. These programs can be customized with photos and words that are important for the individual.
Determining what strategies are best for an individual requires careful consideration of the person’s physical abilities, understanding, communication needs and then matching these factors to the features of communication systems. The individual, family, teachers, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists and an augmentative communication specialist can work together to make recommendations. Typically a trial period is warranted before purchase so that the individual and his/her team can try the device to see if it will be effective. Once a speech generating communication device is identified and funded, implementation and training is essential for the end user as well as those supporting him/her. Sound complicated? This is an involved process; however, the reward of communication for the person currently without it is life-changing!
For additional information about augmentative alternative communication, check out the following websites:
If you know someone who needs help finding their “voice,” contact us at CRG for an Assistive Technology Consultation.