Everyone of us needs to communicate. It is essential to any form of relationship. We need to communicate to convey not just our innermost thoughts but also to our most basic needs and desires.
But, not everyone is equipped with the ability to communicate. And this is especially true for who have special needs.
I worked in London for more than four years as a teaching assistant – that was before I chose another path to become a marketing consultant.
I worked as a teaching assistant at two special needs schools because I have a brother who has autism. And so those who have conditions like my brother is very close to me. While growing up, I saw how our family and friends eagerly communicate with my brother. And we achieve this through Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
This form of communication involves a range of methods of communication which can supplement traditional speech. Fundamentally, AAC are used to get around issues with traditional mode of speech. This includes simple systems such as pictures, gestures and pointing, as well as more complex techniques using computers and other technologies.
AAC can be grouped into three:
- Unaided communication does not involve any additional equipment. This form is sometimes referred to as ‘no-technology communication’. You can use this in the form of body language, gestures, pointing, eye pointing, facial expressions, vocalisations, signing, and so on.
- Aided communication are those which are basic, but with use of some implements. This is what we have to get around with my brother. do not need a battery to function and include: pen and paper to write messages or draw; alphabet and word boards; communication charts or books with pictures, photos and symbols; particular objects used to stand for what the person needs to understand or say.
- High-tech aided communication require power from a battery or mains. Most of them speak and/or produce text. They range from simple buttons or pages that speak when touched, to very sophisticated systems. Some high-tech communication systems are based on familiar equipment such as mobile devices, tablets and laptops, others use equipment specially designed to support communication.
Throughout my experience as a teaching assistant, I would say that it is important to maintain low-tech communication strategies alongside the use of other AAC for the simple reason that aids such as paper or tablet may not always be available. So it is crucial that the person know how to use hand signals such as Makaton.
Makaton is designed to provide a means of communication to individuals who cannot communicate efficiently by speaking. Makaton has been used with individuals who have cognitive difficulties such as autism, Down syndrome, specific language impairment, multisensory impairment and acquired neurological disorders that have negatively affected the ability to communicate, including stroke patients.
You have to bear in mind that a person requires different ways of expressing themselves. It is important that they do not become to dependent with one form of communication. Providing the person with a range of communication options which he can use now and in the future will help him grow and develop and participate more fully in daily life.
Wendy Whitehead worked as a teaching assistant at two special needs schools in London before embarking on a different career as a marketing consultant. Her passion for special education still remains with her however. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and she write articles in this areas. Wendy did her undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Leicester.