Thursday, October 30, 2014

Augmentative & Alternative Communication: Impacting children with differing disabilities

Assistant Technology Consultant of Saltillo, Jean Bosco Walsh, spoke to the UATP about AAC awareness month and the power of speech.

By Bennett Purser

October is International Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month, and the ways children with speech disabilities communicate have never been stronger. With fast-changing AAC devices and software reaching a milestone in accessibility, toddlers to aging adults can now make themselves understood with communication devices.

Assistant Technology Consultant of Saltillo, Jean Bosco Walsh, spoke to the UATP about AAC awareness month and the power of speech. 

“It is much more of a mainstream type of device now, anything to do with AAC is so much more commonplace,” said Bosco Walsh. 

The NOVA Chat 10 functions similar to a tablet with its user-friendly touch screen
The NOVA Chat 10 from Saltillo functions as a tablet.
Communication devices in the past were heavy, large machines that had to be worked around, but the increase in accessibility of the devices has made it much easier for people with communication disorders to engage in meaningful conversation with others. Many devices have decreased in size and price, while allowing for more options to be utilized. 

“Now being able to have a tablet, your device can be much more of a daily function. It doesn't have to be this big extra burden,” she said.

With Saltillo's NOVA Chat device and TouchNet, Saltillo’s app for Apple products that can be accessed with iPads and iPhones, Bosco Walsh has seen children’s behavior change drastically as the technology improves their speech capabilities. 

She’s witnessed the hardship of people not being able to speak naturally, while still having the ability to understand others. So when speech through AAC is given to a child, their behavior reflects their relief, influencing the child’s behaviors.

The NOVA Chat 5 functions like a Smart Phone, with its similar size and weight.
The NOVA Chat 5 functions like a Smart Phone.
“The frustration of someone not being able to talk, but being able to really understand," Bosco Walsh said, "behaviors can really be lessened with the use of a communication device."

She notes that people with varying disabilities can benefit from AAC devices. Researchers have seen children with Autism become more comfortable communicating with these devices as they aren’t distracted with the other sensory elements of a conversation. Students with other disabilities also show drastic increase in speech when learning with devices. 

“Sometime students with Down syndrome have the ability to to put two or three words together, but then you put a device in front of them and all of sudden they're speaking with full sentences and using the right tense and parts of speech, which normally they wouldn't be able to do,” she said.

The relief that Bosco Walsh has seen as students engage in AAC has been powerful. She believes that this year, AAC awareness month has brought more attention to children in need of alternative communication than ever before.

“Not being able to speak, does not mean someone doesn't understand,” she said. “So giving someone a voice can really change their life.” 

Utahns can contact UATP to learn more about acquiring an appropriate AAC device for a family member or client. Learn more about AAC devices from Saltillo and watch the Saltillo Webinar by UATP.

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