Talking in other ways

Some children and young people are unable to use their voice to speak. 

They might also struggle to understand spoken words. 

This doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. 

There are a range of ways they can “talk” using sign language and Augmentative and Alternative (AAC) systems.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Young people with a range of disabilities use “augmentative and alternative communication” (AAC) systems to share their thoughts and ideas.

Many communicate with their body through:

  • Eye contact
  • Facial expressions
  • Different gestures.

AAC Devices

There are a range of commonly used electronic and non-electronic AAC devices.

Many kids use a tablet that lets them choose words or symbols to communicate. The device then speaks out loud what they have chosen.

This is sometimes called a “talker”.

Other kids use communication boards or books with key words and symbols. They point to words or symbols to communicate. Here is an example of some picture boards for common nursery rhymes.

Students who can’t use their finger to point have other options. They can use devices with eye gaze technology or devices that connect to a switch to scan through the symbols, to help them communicate.

Some children who use AAC devices will also develop spoken language. These devices can help them with their language development.

Communicating with children and young people with AAC devices

For many children and young people, it can take a while to get the hang of their AAC device. They will need their teachers, parents and carers to model using the device to them. This helps them get used to “talking” using a communication system. It may take a while before they can use the device by themselves.

If your child or someone you know is using an AAC device, be patient. Wait for them to “speak” and resist interrupting. Some children will take a while to process what you are telling them – sometimes over 20 seconds. They aren’t ignoring you, they just need more time

Most children with a disability can do more than you think. Talk to them clearly and respectfully and assume they are understanding, even if their response is slow.

Remember that even though they “talk” differently, they still want to chat.

Sign Language

It’s well known that children and young people who are deaf learn and use sign language to communicate.

Sign language is also used by kids with autism, speech and language disorders, down syndrome and a range of developmental disabilities.

Some families teach their babies and toddlers some key signs. They find it a useful communication tool while their language is still developing. This approach doesn’t suit every family. But even one or two “signs” such as “eat” or “drink” can make family communication easier.

If you and your child know someone who uses sign language to communicate, why not learn a a few words and phrases in AUSLAN – the Australian version of sign language.

Here’s a video introduction to some basic signing courtesy of Can:Do Classroom.

You can also join the Key Word Sign Tasmania Facebook Group.

If you want to know more about AAC devices or sign language, you can also talk to the speech pathologist at your local school or Child and Family Learning Centre.