Cerebral Palsy and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Some kids living with cerebral palsy have severe speech problems which make it extremely difficult, and even impossible to communicate orally. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can help these children express themselves and connect with family, caregivers, and others.
What is AAC?
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is any type of communication except for oral speech. It can include anything that helps children with cerebral palsy communicate and express themselves. For instance, hand gestures, pictures, facial expressions, sending an email, and writing something would all be considered forms of ACC.
There are two types of ACC, including aided AAC and unaided AAC. Unaided AAC is any form of non-oral communication that doesn’t involve any kind of technology or equipment ( waving, using sign language, making faces, etc.)
Aided ACC continues to evolve, and with constantly-changing technology, parents have many more options with communicating with their children than ever before. Some examples of aided AAC include:
- Communication boards
- Tablets (iPad, for example)
- Speech-generating devices
- Communication books
Benefits of ACC
Communication is essential for children, regardless of disability. For those that have difficulties expressing needs, ideas, and wants to caregivers and parents, ACC is an invaluable way to bridge the communication gap. It can also be life-saving. If a child has certain ailments or pains, it’s crucial that they have a way to communicate what hurts to loved ones.
Another benefit of ACC is an increase in learning, which helps children with disabilities stay on the same level educationally, or at least as close as possible, to their peers. If children are incapable of communicating effectively, they won’t be able to ask a question if they don’t understand an assignment or what’s being taught.
For children who have physical disabilities that limit mobility, communication boards and other devices can be mounted to wheelchairs to provide a way for them communicate while on the go. The devices can also be mounted in a way that it reaches eye level perfectly for each child (higher or lower for example).
Is Your Child a Good Candidate For ACC?
Before deciding on ACC and determining which type is best for your child, a pediatrician will generally recommend working with a speech/language therapist and an assistive technology (AT) professional. These professionals can evaluate the child and discern not only what the problem areas are, but also what type of ACC will be the most beneficial. Some children may work better with tablets while others learn faster with communication boards. Some children may need to incorporate a series of both aided and unaided ACC into their lives.
Generally, AT professionals and speech therapists will look for the following things when assessing a child:
- What cognitive disabilities the child has
- What physical disabilities the child has
- Does the child show motivation and interest in ACC? If so, does the child show strong interest towards a particular way of learning?
These are just a few of the things that may be assessed when deciding if ACC will work for your child, but there will also be numerous other factors that may be looked at as well.
Key Findings in ACC Studies
A study on ACC published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding a high school student with cerebral palsy, entitled, Implementing augmentative and alternative communication in inclusive educational settings: a case study, showed the following key findings after the student began using ACC:
- The student’s intelligibility increased
- The student’s relationship with peers became more enjoyable
- The school staff became more comfortable when teaching the student
- The student’s socialization increased
In another study, carried out by AssistiveWare and professors from the University of San Diego and the California State University at San Marcos, researchers studied Apple products (smartphones and tablets) and the benefits in regards to ACC. The following key findings were determined:
- Up to 80% of ACC users and their families who were surveyed in the study reported improvement in independence, behavior, and overall well-being
- Apple’s iOS devices and AAC apps on the devices are beneficial all ages, ranging from children in the intervention stages of communication to senior citizens
- Apple iOS devices have been so successful with ACC that it seems to be accelerating quickly
- Many people may not be using the full functions that tablet apps can provide; further studies are needed to see the total effectiveness
Of course, Apple products are just one of that many types of aided ACC devices that provide communication apps. There are numerous alternatives available, some of which are provided at no charge to children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities that limit communication. To see if your child qualifies, speak with your child’s speech therapist or pediatrician.
The Future of Communication and Cerebral Palsy
Whether it’s through communication boards and tablets, or non-aided ACC such as learning sign language and using distinct facial expressions, the majority of children with cerebral palsy will be able to communicate. As technology progresses, and even more options open up, the future of children with cerebral palsy communicating effectively has never looked brighter.