Difficulty communicating has always been considered a chief feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children with autism do not develop communication skills in the same way neurotypical children do and often have difficulty expressing themselves with spoken and written language.
People with ASD can have very strong verbal skills but have difficulty mastering social communication. Communicating in a social situation is very complex, involving not only the words we use and the order in which we use them, but a variety of non-verbal clues.
Children on the autism spectrum are all different in the constellations of symptoms they experience, but often show difficulty with motor planning. The motor planning needed for speaking, coordinating the facial muscles — mouth, tongue, and lips — requires significant ability.
Assistive Technology for Autism
As any parent of kids with ASD knows, the difficulties with communication don’t mean your kids don’t have important things to say.
Fortunately, research shows that even nonverbal children with ASD can communicate effectively with the right tools. Barriers to communication, whether they involve physical motor skills, or being overwhelmed mentally by trying to interpret and respond appropriately to others, can be conquered with the help of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
Low-Tech AAC, such as symbol charts and communication books, are strategies and tools that don’t involve the use of electronics. Other examples of low-tech AAC are PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and communication boards.
Communication charts or boards allow the child to select a picture, word, phrase, or letter to convey their meaning. Children can use a pointer or body part to make their selection.
Once a child is regularly attempting to communicate using low-tech AAC they can expand to using high-tech systems.
The benefits of high-tech assistive technology for Autism include an extensive vocabulary, the ability to be used with social media platforms, and higher user autonomy.
There are hundreds of voice output devices that can provide a means of effective verbal communication for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These are generally called Speech Generating Devices (SGD), or VOCA (voice output communication aids).
Some SGDs use digitized human speech or computer-generated speech, and some have text-to-speech capacity. Some use symbols, such as line drawings, to represent messages.
It is believed that the use of augmentative and alternative communication supports speech development by reducing pressure on the child and by continuing to develop language and conversational skills.