According to the DSM 5 Autism can be defined as a persistent deficit in social communication and social interactions including social – emotional reciprocity, use of non-verbal communicative behaviours used in social interaction and deficits in developing and maintaining relationships as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.
According to research about 30% of autistic children are non-verbal. Non-verbal is a term use to refer to an autistic child who does not have the ability to produce speech or has very little and unclear speech for their age.
Lack of speech or not having the ability to produce speech is one of the characteristics of an autistic child and is also one of the most important areas to treat when treating an autistic child.
One can provide a voice and means to communicate to an autistic child by making use of Augmentative and Alternative communication methods (AAC). AAC can be described as the replacement of natural speech using aided or unaided symbols or alternative communication which can include but is not limited to the exchange of pictures and words or speech – output devices like iPads or tablets.
Benefits of AAC for an autistic child:
The use of alternative methods of communication can help an autistic child understand and communicate effectively with others. Here are some of the ways an autistic child can benefit from the use of AAC
–improvement of an autistic child’s understanding of words: The use of PECS, or an electronic communication system such as TouchChat or Proloquo2Go requires the use of visuals of the items or actions. The use of a picture lasts longer than speech (as speech is very quick) and requires the communicator and the receiver of the communication to slow down which an autistic child more time to process the information.
–AAC is an effective way to learn early words fast: an autistic child can learn early words very fast as they get to the see the image/visual paired with the spoken language
– encourages eye contact: an autistic child has great difficulties making eye contact and by providing a non-vocal autistic child with AAC we are encouraging them to make eye contact is it gives the autistic child a purpose to gain the receiver of the speech’s attention and to make eye contact
–AAC can aid in developing expressive speech: a method of AAC is to use a speech – output device like an iPad with an application like TouchChat. An autistic child will select the icon of the item or action they desire and then the iPad will label the object or action allowing an autistic child to hear the expressive language paired with the icon.
Alternative augmentative communication methods:
There are many different alternative and augmentative methods of communication for an autistic child, but at the Star Academy we mainly use speech output devices or picture exchange communication systems. The reason for this is that both these communication methods can be understood by any individual which means that an autistic child can be understood by anyone as opposed to sign language which is only understood by other sign language speakers. Below is a detailed description of speech output devices and PECS:
–speech-output devices: a speech – output device can be referred to as any device where speech can hear after selecting an icon or typing a word or sentence. Commonly used speech – output devices that are used are iPads, iPhones and tablets. The use of these devices requires an application like TouchChat (for apple devices) or let me talk (android devices). Icons or basic words can be added onto the application and only requires an autistic child to select the icon or word /build a sentence to communicate their needs.
–PECS: PECS refers to the use of pictures that are exchanged for the item or action. An autistic child will hand the receiver the picture or word or even a sentence strip to communicate their wants and needs. At the Star Academy we pair the expressive language with either the picture, word or sentence strip. By doing this we are teaching an autistic child the expressive language that goes with the picture, word or sentence that they handed over
At The Star Academy we have seen many success stories with non-verbal autistic children who acquired speech through the continues use of PECS and Speech output devices and applications by teaching them the expressive language of the object/actions the autistic child wants.