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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Speech vs. Communication

This is the third in a series of posts about non-verbal autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

"I want to help my child communicate."

"I want to help my child speak (or speak more fluently)."

That's what we often hear from parents of non-verbal children.

These two goals are certainly related, but they are not the same.

In our last post, we happily reported on a study that concluded that most non-verbal autistic children ultimately become verbal. That's great news. But it also concluded that over half did not become fluent, and about a third never became verbal.

We believe that the primary goal for a non-verbal child should be communication, verbal or otherwise. This may be using a communication  (AAC) app like TapToTalk, a system like PECS, sign language, or a combination of methods. Unlock the mind of your child with the ability to communicate. That's a life-long gift. If speech follows, great. But it may not.

Many of these kids need to have what TapToTalk Mom Fay Bareham calls a "Helen Keller moment," when they realize they can get their needs met by communicating better:

"My son is 11 years old. He has had various speech devices over the years but they have been bulky and hard to carry so it was not something he was interested in. His iPod looks just like his dad's phone. He can clip it on his belt just like Dad. It's cool to him. One day he had what my friend called a 'Helen Keller moment' where he suddenly realized that he was 'talking' due to TapToTalk and the iPod. For the first time he feels as if he has a voice of his own. Now he won't let it out of his sight. TapToTalk has made for several moments of HAPPY tears for us."

There is a myth that using a communication aid discourages oral speech. That has been disproved again and again. The opposite is true. Communicating in any fashion encourages speech development.

Jack Kieffer discovered this rather dramatically with his friend Kevin:

"Kevin is not very verbal, and it's extremely rare to hear him say an entire sentence. When he opened TapToTalk, he first tapped the Toilet icon, which says, 'I have to go to the bathroom' out loud. After the application said this phrase, Kevin repeated it. We all looked at him in excited disbelief--he's not one of the kids who frequently repeats instructions from people or conversations that he overhears, he sticks to basic words and strings a couple of them together. Of course, Kevin went back and journeyed into the 'food' section and proceeded to make the application say, 'I want to eat a (insert food here)' and repeated the phrase."

And age is not an issue. SLP Barbara Hallahan told us this:

"I have a success story with an adult who had never spoken before February of this year. She is now speaking and using TapToTalk on a smart phone. She is even learning to read and write. Key Point: The investment in TapToTalk does not shut the door on total communication. It opens it."

Perhaps this is a conversation to have with your child's speech therapist. What are the goals for the therapy? More specifically, what are the communication goals? What are the spoken language goals?

One way or another, let's give those kids a voice!

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