AAC and Autism

Today ends my month blogging about Autism Awareness. I have found so many articles and links, however, that I will continue to post them from time to time.

Because minimally verbal and non-verbal children with Autism have significant social difficulties, giving them a “talking device” will not make them talk. I’ve heard too many parents of children with Autism believe that if they “only” had this computer, then Jimmy would talk. My experience, is that a child significantly impacted by Autism will initially ignore the device all together, or push the buttons over and over.

That does not mean that people with Autism cannot use Augmentative Communication to help them communicate. Quite the contrary, they can experience enormous success with both simple augmentative communication (picture boards, word boards, writing), simple voice output, and high technology devices.

Patty Murphy, in the Advance article “Austism & AAC”, states

Communication tends to be an anxiety-producing experience for people with autism, she said. It can shut down auditory processing and word-retrieval abilities, which may lead to inappropriate behaviors associated with the fulfillment of wants and needs…

Behavior is communication, she noted. If members of the treatment team can figure out the communicative intent of a behavior, “they can teach a more appropriate replacement behavior.”

Visual tools such as picture symbols and words may serve as a bridge to that end. For example, a child who initially pulls a parent by the hand to express a desire to leave the house may learn first to point to a car or a picture of a car and then to select or compose the message “Can we go for a ride, please?” on a speech-output device.

With significant training of when and how to use words, messages, pictures, and writing children with Autism may be successful with Augmentative communication, whether low or high tech.

Here is a video from the Dynavox website on one child who experienced success with a high technology voice output device. On the right side of the screen click on the link “launch video”.

Keep in mind however, that this movie feature is on the website for the company, which is trying to sell their devices. This is not the best AAC for most individuals with Autism.

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  1. Thanks for the info. For awhile we thought that Monkette would be non verbal but thanks to a great Speech therapist she turned the other way. I can not imagine the pain that these parents go through and I hope this kind of thing helps them to better be able to communicate with their children.

  2. I really appreciated all of your posts this month about autism and autism spectrum disorders. Thanks so much!!!!

  3. A boy in our church had a device like this and it helped him through two years before he was able to get his words understandable enough for us to interpret.

  4. I’m glad you liked the article “Autism & AAC: Meeting a Social Deficit” published in ADVANCE for SLPs’ April 14 edition. While I am the author, I had lots of input from Enid Hurtado, a behavior specialist and former special education teacher who is now an educational specialist at Mayer-Johnson LLC and whose comments you mention in your blog entry. Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH, national director of autism services for Easter Seals and speech-language pathologist Vicki Clarke, M.S. CCC-SLP, also shared insights from their work with this population for the piece. Speech-generating devices may not be for everyone who experiences significant verbal communication impairment resulting from autism and need not be viewed as a definitive solution when adopted as part of a comprehensive AAC system. But real and lasting success with simple and advanced technologies is possible – as long as long as the person using AAC is treated as an individual and the process is handled with care, as Hurtado, Wright and Clarke have found. The gradual nature of the process is illustrated by the stories of two young men voluntarily shared by their care teams and found at http://www.dynavoxtech.com/success/customers_saar_shacham.aspx and

    Kindest Regards,

    Patti Murphy
    DynaVox Technologies

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