Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are lifelong developmental disabilities characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities. (Ref: http://www.autismspeaks.org/)
Children with Autism may be delayed in developing their language skills and / or they may have difficulty with producing the sounds required to create speech (dyspraxia). It is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 people with Autism will not use speech as their main form of communication.
It has long been recognised that individuals with Autism can benefit greatly from visually presented information. Because of this, using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for children and adults with Autism can provide much needed assistance with both expressive and receptive communication. (Ref: Bloom, Speech Pathology Australia workshop)
AAC can be in the form of visual schedules, social stories, communication boards as well as electronic communication devices. Electronic Communication Devices can also contain any number of these other strategies such as schedules or calendars, photo albums and social stories. Using AAC does not mean we are giving up on a person's ability to develop speech, rather we are providing a means of communication. This communication method may be for the short term to help the person communicate whilst their speech and language skills develop. The individual's team may continue other activities that help to promote and develop speech. New research has shown that including speech output (such as is provided with electronic communication devices) for children with autism can support further developments in verbal communication (speech).There are also numerous research studies that suggest that using various forms of AAC - including but not limited to electronic communication devices - with individuals with Autism can also help to decrease behaviours of concern.
AAC may be a long term or permanent strategy for people who continue to have difficulty using speech to communicate.
When working with individuals with Autism it is important to remember that they are 'individuals' with individual needs, strengths and difficulties. The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder can describe a wide range of abilities and we must be mindful of ensuring a person centred approach to assessment and selection of a speech generating device.
People communicate using various methods that may be dependent on our mood or the environment we are in. For example we may use gestures, writing, speech, sound effects etc. This holds true for people with Autism who are using AAC.
Some people may use their speech or gestures when interacting with familiar people in familiar environments because their family and friends know them well and can interpret their speech or behaviours. But they may use a more formal AAC method when they are in new environments or with unfamiliar people. Others may be able to use their own speech in certain situations or when speaking about favourite topics but benefit from augmentative forms of communication in stressful or new situations or to assist them have longer more meaningful conversations. We have had many personal experiences with people with Autism who are able to participate in conversations using their own speech but with their communication device they can participate much more fully in interactions around them.
When choosing a Speech Generating Device for an individual with autism the following will be important considerations:
- Ability for schedules
- Consistent motor planning
- Current form of communication
- Decreasing learning demands
- Development of literacy
- Distractions by other programs
- Does the device appeal to the person?
- Ease of useIncreasing social interaction
- Organisation of language
- Reducing behaviours of concern
- Representation of language
- Selection technique
- Speech alone may not be enough
- Support of comprehension
- Supporting social interactions
- Voice output
My child is currently using PECS what communication device would be best?
PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) suggests that children who are at stage 3 of the PECS protocol may be able to transition to an electronic communication device. Whilst some children using PECS to communicate will be able to transition to a dynamic screen communication device some may have more success with a device that is similar to their current method of communication either as a long term device or as a transitioning device.
If the child you are working who still requires a physical exchange of some kind or tangible symbols to help them to grasp the concept of communicating then you may like to consider either the Proxtalker and or the Proxpad. Both of these devices allow for a person to interact with and manipulate a physical object during communication.
The student I am thinking of uses object symbols (for example an object or part of an object to represent an item or activity) for communication, can they use a speech generating device?
Yes. A number of our electronic communication devices are able to be combined with object symbols. These devices include:
I am working with very young children with autism who are very active but all the devices seem too big and heavy for them?
Whilst there are quite a few large screen communication devices to allow for lots of room on the screen for vocabulary. There are a number of smaller devices that are very light and can be easily carried even by very young children.
Should I use an iPad for communication with my child / student with Autism?
This is a question that we are asked almost every day. If you are unsure as to whether the iPad is a suitable device for the person with Autism that you are supporting please feel free to phone our office to discuss the benefits and difficulties of using main stream technology as a communication device.
If the person with Autism that you are working with is able to use the touch screen on an iPad and either doesn't need / want access to other activities on their iPad or if they can independently and appropriately switch between different applications then yes the iPad may be a suitable device for them.
If you are considering using an iPad for communication you may like to consider the following apps:
If you have decided that the iPad is not the best choice for a device or would like to consider some similar but purpose built communication devices then you may like to consider: