“Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I have nothing to say”

October is International Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) awareness month. As Hilary Gardner from Communication Matters explains, there are many ways of communicating, not just with words.

Humans are great at communication. You might think I mean talking, but we communicate with our whole bodies – our hands, our eyes, our faces. We certainly know when someone is angry or happy without them needing to say! Of course, words are very powerful tools too, and we all enjoy a good story, whether it is read out of a book or spoken. Some people use very long sentences and others use single words that give just enough information.

There are many reasons why people cannot speak. They may never have developed the ability to speak out loud or they may have lost the ability to speak due to an illness or accident. However, they will have understanding of language ‘in their head’ – even if they can’t speak the words. It is important that we include everyone in a conversation and give everyone a chance to express themselves. Luckily there are other ways of communicating with words, not just talking.

Alternative means of communication

“Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I haven’t anything to say” is a thought expressed by many people who use AAC – augmentative and alternative means of communication. Sign systems, such as Makaton and British Sign Language can be used with people from a very young age. There are picture and symbol systems that can be presented on their own or in books and on communication boards.

Boy using AACMore and more these days, children and adults are using electronic communication aids however. There are complex computer systems that enable those with physical restrictions to compose sentences. More recently simple ipad apps will have grid displays of a series of pictures or written words that will speak when touched. For those who don’t have good control over their hands they can use eye gaze and switch equipment to control the picture selection.

Communicating is about talking with one another. The important thing to remember is don’t be anxious about talking with someone who uses AAC. The key is to talk to the person, not the device and leave time for people using AAC to form a message, as the AAC device is slower than when we speak.

We are delighted to have two trustees from Communication Matters answering your questions on our online community this week, so please do drop them a line!

Also, check out these great tips for communicating with people who have no speech, which have all been contributed by members of our online community.

For further information about Communication Matters, please visit their website.

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