AAC Devices for Language Development in Children with Autism
I recently spoke with Speech and Language Pathologist and autism mom, Deidra Darst. She and I discussed her stance on AAC devices and also about her autism blog. If you want to listen to our whole conversation, you can find it on my podcast.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices
Some people think that Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices – like sign language and picture exchange – will curtail or prevent vocal language. That’s simply not the case. Every study that I’m aware of shows AAC devices can often be a springboard for language. Like in Deidra’s case, where her son uses an AAC device called Language Acquisition Through Motor Planning, or LAMP. So, as a speech pathologist, Deidra also wants to dispel that myth.
In my online courses, I am a big proponent of not going to a device too early. If the child has any kind of pop-out words, we might want to spend a month or two trying to get vocal words because there’s no upkeep on a device. However, using an AAC device can be helpful in situations where your children or clients with autism need help with their vocal language, for instance, longer or harder words that are difficult to pronounce. Like I always say, we want our children or clients to be as safe, independent, and happy as possible. It’s okay if you need an AAC device to help with those goals.
Still, there are a lot of parent concerns. I know somebody in my online community that just posted how her speech therapist for her son wanted to start a picture exchange and she felt like that would cut off his language. He already had some vocal language at that point and she wanted to focus on it more. But the speech pathologist, in that case, wanted to focus on the picture exchange. It shouldn’t be all or nothing, but in the end, vocal language is the best to start with. However, sometimes you need to start sign language or picture exchanges or AAC devices just to get the children spring-boarded.
Deidra’s Advice on AAC Devices
Deidra says she tries to explain AAC devices to parents – Augmentative and Alternative Communication. It’s okay to use these devices as a supplement. With her son, speaking is the easiest and that’s what he prefers. When he wants something or wants to tell his parents something, he’s going to say it. But they might not always understand what he’s saying, particularly if it’s a three-syllable word or something that’s a little harder to say, or if it’s a new word for him. Then he will go get his device and use it.
If your child has no way to communicate and you can give them AAC devices to give them communication, you should do it. Yes, you want them to talk, but until that happens, you need to give them a way to communicate.
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The SLP Mom
I also asked Deidra about her blog. Deidra writes a blog called The SLP Mom (www.theSLPmom.com) that she started after her son was diagnosed with autism.
She says, “Colin was diagnosed with autism almost two years ago. I didn’t really talk about it because I thought it was private. I started the blog just for myself to process. That’s how I work through emotions… write. A few months into that, he had a diagnosis and I hadn’t made it public. I thought I was doing him a disservice because I was his voice right at that moment. If I don’t speak up for him and share what’s going on, people won’t know. They won’t understand.”
You Are Not Alone
“I’ve had a lot of messages, mostly from other moms, who just say “thank you,” because you feel alone sometimes,” Deidra says. “You just need to hear from somebody else that it’s okay to feel sad or that, if your kid’s struggling, you’re not alone,” says Deidra.
“I write when something strikes me. Maybe a couple of times a week I’ll write something and then I might go a week and not do anything. It’s just my way of processing my emotions, but it also helps me reach out to other parents. I’ve done some blogs on AAC devices and using augmentative communication. I’ve written about how it’s not going to hold back language.”
AAC devices will not curtail your child or client’s language. I am a firm believer of working on language first, but if an AAC device will help your child or client lead a happier, more independent, and safe life, they are worth looking into. If you would like more information, check out the rest of Deidra’s podcast episode at https://marybarbera.com/autism-speech-delay-deidra-darst/. [/vc_column_text]
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