April is autism awareness month: Day 12 – Augmentative and Alternative Communication: #1 what is it?
Dylan’s main difficulty is his inability to communicate.
This difficulty is an intertwined combination of his autism, dyspraxia and learning disability and is the cause of a majority of his frustrations.
Dylan will try to speak but his speech sounds are so jumbled and mismatched it is very difficult to understand him.
To enable Dylan to make his needs known he uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system on his IPad. The term AAC describes various methods of communication that can either be an addition to speech or are used to get around speech problems.
There are elements of AAC in parts of everyone’s communication, for example: we all wave goodbye; give a ‘thumbs up’ in agreement; etc. However, some people have to rely on AAC all or most of the time.
For those like Dylan who cannot communicate verbally there are different types of AAC. AAC includes simple systems such as pictures, gestures and pointing, up to more complex techniques involving computers and other technologies.
No-tech communication can be very basic, it encompasses all elements of non-verbal communication and does not involve any additional equipment Examples include body language, gestures, pointing, eye pointing and facial expressions. Baby signing is a perfect example of AAC aiding babies’ communication before conventional speech develops.
Low-tech communication systems require additional equipment including:
pen and paper to write messages or draw; alphabet and word boards;
communication charts or books with pictures, photos and symbols;
particular objects can be used to stand for what the person needs to understand or say.
High-tech communication systems are referred to as ‘aided communication’ and they need power source from a battery or mains. Most of these devices speak and may also produce text.
They range from simple single buttons or pages that speak when touched, to very sophisticated systems. Some communication systems are based on everyday equipment such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, others use equipment specially designed to support communication.
The high tech system that Dylan uses is an app that is installed on his iPad. Using this method is considerably less expensive than a specialist device which can have eye gaze technology such as famously used by Stephen Hawkins.
Dylan’s IPad is used to help him express himself.
Dylan finds communication difficult because he has no clear speech because of the dyspraxia but he also finds spoken communication difficult because he does not always understand how language works and so finds it difficult to connect socially.
The iPad can also help with understanding. When Dylan is anxious he may find it difficult to understand what others are saying. By using basic AAC such as drawing, writing or pointing to things, may help him to understand.
Difficulty with communication is a common condition but often under recognised. Many people who have significant communication difficulties might be helped by some form of AAC but this isn’t always easy to access.
Better communication improves quality of life and can increase participation in society. When Dylan is encouraged to use AAC he is able to communicate and this produces more opportunities for education, work, relationships and independence.