What’s New in Assistive Communication Devices for Non-Verbal Individuals in the UK?

April 17, 2024

In recent years, there’s been an accelerated growth in assistive communication technology. This progress has been crucial for those who struggle to express themselves verbally due to various disabilities. They often rely on AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, to interact with the world around them.

With advancements in technology, AAC has evolved from simple picture boards to high-tech devices that can generate speech. Today, we will explore the latest developments in assistive communication devices, both high-tech and low-tech, that are helping non-verbal individuals in the UK to communicate more effectively.

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The Evolution of AAC

Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC, is a term that encompasses the tools and strategies that individuals with speech and language difficulties use to communicate.

In the past, AAC primarily consisted of manual signs, gestures, and symbols. Nowadays, AAC involves a wide range of tools, including sophisticated tech devices and apps designed to aid in conveying messages.

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The evolution of AAC has been remarkable, with technology playing a pivotal role. High-tech AAC devices are becoming more intuitive and tailored to individual needs.

High-tech AAC Devices

High-tech AAC devices go beyond just basic symbols and text-to-speech capabilities. The advent of technology has given rise to dynamic display devices, eye-gaze technology, and even brain-interface devices.

Dynamic Display Devices are AAC tools that display symbols or words on a screen, which change depending on the selected symbol. This dynamic display allows the user to navigate through multiple levels to communicate complex thoughts and sentences.

Eye-Gaze Technology is another breakthrough in AAC. These devices use eye-tracking technology to enable individuals with limited motor control, like those with severe cerebral palsy, to communicate. Simply by looking at specific areas on a screen, they can select words or symbols to generate speech.

Of all the emerging technologies, Brain-Computer Interfaces are perhaps the most exciting. While still in the research and development phase, these devices aim to translate brain activity into speech directly.

AAC Apps

In the digital age, it’s no surprise that AAC has found its way into mobile technology. Increasingly, people are turning to AAC apps as a portable and affordable communication aid.

AAC apps can turn smartphones and tablets into communication devices. Many of these apps feature a comprehensive symbol set, voice output, and customizable interfaces. Some popular AAC apps include Proloquo2Go, GoTalk NOW, and Speak for Yourself.

The advantage of AAC apps is their portability and accessibility. Parents can easily download an app onto a device that their child already uses, reducing the need for multiple devices. These apps are also generally more affordable than dedicated AAC devices, making communication aids accessible to more people.

Low-tech AAC Support

While high-tech AAC devices and apps have revolutionised the way non-verbal individuals communicate, low-tech AAC aids still have a vital role to play.

Low-tech AAC aids don’t require batteries or charging, making them reliable in situations when technology might fail. Some examples include communication boards, books, or cards with symbols or pictures, which individuals can point to in order to convey their message.

Low-tech AAC aids also serve as a valuable stepping stone or as a supplement to high-tech AAC devices. They can help individuals understand the concept of communication through symbols before transitioning to more complex devices.

The Importance of AAC Assessment

With the array of AAC options available, it’s essential to ensure the selected communication aid is the best fit for the individual. This is where AAC assessment comes in.

AAC assessment is a comprehensive process that involves evaluating the individual’s communication needs, abilities, and preferences. It is usually conducted by a team of professionals, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and special educators.

The assessment helps identify the most suitable AAC system, whether it’s a high-tech device, an AAC app, or a low-tech aid. It also determines the need for customisations like specific vocabulary or access methods.

Assistive communication technology is continually evolving, and the future of AAC looks promising. With ongoing research and development, we can hope for assistive communication devices that are even more intuitive, efficient, and tailored to individual needs. As technology continues to advance, the power to communicate effectively is increasingly within reach for non-verbal individuals in the UK and around the world.

The Role of AAC in Special Education

Special Education programs have greatly benefited from the advancements of AAC devices. These devices have significantly improved the learning environment for children with communication difficulties, including children with autism. The use of AAC in special education provides these children with alternative ways to express their thoughts, wants, and needs.

Traditionally, communication aids used in special education were limited to sign language, picture boards, or the use of simple gestures. However, with the advent of assistive technology, a plethora of communication aids have become available. These range from low tech tools to high tech devices and apps, offering a diverse range of options to cater to individual needs.

A notable shift has been the integration of high-tech AAC devices in special education settings. These devices, equipped with dynamic display and touch screen features, offer an interactive, engaging way for children to learn and communicate. Furthermore, these devices can be tailored to suit the individual learning pace and communication style of each child.

AAC apps have also found a place in special education. Teachers can install these apps on tablets or smart boards, enabling children to communicate during class activities. These apps not only facilitate communication but also enhance the learning experience by providing visual and auditory stimuli.

On the other hand, low-tech AAC aids, such as symbol cards or communication boards, still hold an important place in special education. They are especially beneficial for children who might get overwhelmed by high-tech devices or for those who are just starting their AAC journey.

It’s clear that AAC has a significant role in special education, providing children with the necessary tools to communicate and learn effectively.

AAC Training for Parents and Caregivers

While assistive communication technologies like AAC devices and apps offer great potential for non-verbal individuals, it’s equally important that parents, caregivers, and teachers are adequately trained in their use.

For many parents and caregivers, especially those not tech-savvy, the world of AAC can seem daunting. Training in the use of AAC allows them to effectively support their child, enhancing the child’s communication skills and overall development.

AAC training involves understanding what AAC is, learning about the various communication aids available, and how to implement them in daily life. This can range from teaching caregivers how to use a high-tech AAC device to demonstrating how to use low-tech aids like symbol cards.

Training also covers strategies to encourage and prompt the AAC user to communicate. This could involve modelling, where the caregiver uses the AAC system to communicate, showing the AAC user how it works.

Access to AAC training is often through local health and social care services or special education programs. There are also online resources available that provide step by step guides and instructional videos for using various AAC devices and apps.

Through adequate training, caregivers can ensure that the chosen AAC system is being used to its maximum potential, fostering effective communication and promoting independence for the AAC user.

Concluding Remarks

The advancements in assistive communication devices have undoubtedly opened up new possibilities for non-verbal individuals in the UK. From high-tech AAC devices that harness eye-gaze technology, to simple yet effective low-tech aids, the landscape of augmented and alternative communication is diverse and vibrant.

The integration of AAC in special education has revolutionised learning for children with communication difficulties, making classrooms more inclusive and engaging. In parallel, AAC training for parents and caregivers helps maximise the potential of these communication tools, supporting non-verbal individuals in their journey to effective communication.

As we look towards the future, the ever-evolving field of AAC promises even more innovative solutions. Continued research and development in this area hold the potential for more intuitive, personalised communication aids that can further improve the quality of life for non-verbal individuals. One thing is certain – the power to communicate, once limited for these individuals, is becoming increasingly limitless.