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Autism and the Effectiveness of Augmentative and Alternative Communication


Children and adults that use AAC devices are more successful communicators when properly trained and when their teachers have basic training to help facilitate meaningful communication.

Many specialists believe that the Apple iPad is very adaptable for children with ASD to use as an AAC device. It lessens the symptoms of the disorder by helping kids deal with life’s sensory overload.

Autism experts like Dr. Martha Herbert, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical, and Stephen Shore, who wrote the book “Understanding Autism for Dummies,” agree about the iPad’s usefulness.

The disorder, which affects as many as one out of 110 children in the U.S. according to a CDC study, means kids have “no control over the pace of information coming at them,” says Herbert. With the iPad, she said, the child has more control.

Gili Rechany, the Education Director at Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices School in Brooklyn — which uses the iPad as part of their special education programs — says the iPad allows children with autism to have more direct control than a standard laptop which requires the use of a keyboard and mouse. She also indicated that, “the iPad is an AAC device that allows the child to access their speaker domain abilities easily through using technology with limited modality requirement and minimal cost.”

Aside from the fact that an IPad costs much less than some of the high end AAC’s available, it is also:  Easy to transport  Easy to use applications  Online tutorials are available for free  Educational, communicative and leisure time applications are available for free or for purchase

There are at least three dozen apps designed for autistic kids, including ones for music and reading. And the device itself supports spoken text and other aids for those with special needs.

Here are some links for all kinds of uses:  iPhone application – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyBnt9wygyY  Possible Homework activities – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdpjIR8KjLU&feature=related  Summary of multiple applications – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-eWvnWMx6c&feature=related

In a leading book on AAC by Joanne Cafiero, PhD, Meaningful Exchanges for People with Autism, Dr. Cafiero discusses the ways AAC fits people with autism well (page 26) • Most people with autism are visual learner – AAC uses visual cues • Many people with autism are interested in inanimate objects – AAC tools and devices are inanimate • Many people with autism have difficulty with complex cues – Level of complexity can be controlled so AAC grows with the child • Many people with autism have difficulty with change – AAC is static and predictable • Most people with autism have difficulty with the complexities of social interaction – AAC provides a buffer and bridge between communication partners • Some people with autism have difficulty with motor planning – AAC is motorically easier than speech • Many people with autism experience anxiety – AAC interventions don’t apply pressure or stress (when introduced properly) • Many people with autism present behavioral challenges – AAC provides an instant means to communicate, preempting difficult behaviors • Many people with autism have difficulty with memory – AAC provides means for language comprehension that relies on recognition rather than memory.

Most people have not heard much about Augmentative and Alternative Communication with the exception of sign language. AAC is a different way of communicating with others without using your natural voice. But communication is a lot more than that, especially for children on the Autism spectrum, who can have difficulty with eye contact and the two–sided aspect of maintaining a conversation. It is estimated by the National Research Council that one third to one half of children and adults with autism do not use speech functionally. This makes them prime candidates for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, either to augment their existing speech or to act as their alternative method of communication.

What’s great about AAC is that there are all types of augmentative communication that can help fill different needs. You only need to find the right ‘fit’ for your child and their needs. For more information in augmentative communication, check out YAACK (Augmentative and Communication Connecting Young Kids) which offers a comprehensive breakdown of the evaluation process for whether to get a low or high tech device, funding issues, and issues with education. However, it is best to seek expert advice on how to proceed and for instructional measures which may “make or break” the success of any AAC program.

Joshua Weinstein has been an educator and administrator for over four decades. He holds a Ph.D., two Masters Degrees in Educational Administration and Supervision and an MBA in Executive Administration. He has been the CEO in healthcare, social services, and business corporations. He’s the president and founder of Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, Tishma for children with autism in Jerusalem and ICare4Autism- International Center for Autism Research & Education- a global leader in autism research & education. He can be reached via email at jweinstein@skhov.org.

About the Author: Joshua Weinstein has been an educator and administrator for over four decades. He holds a Ph.D., two Masters Degrees in Educational Administration and Supervision and an MBA in Executive Administration. He has been the CEO in healthcare, social services, and business corporations. He’s the president and founder of Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, Tishma for children with autism in Jerusalem and ICare4Autism- International Center for Autism Research & Education- a global leader in autism research & education. He can be reached via email at jweinstein@skhov.org.


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