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How To Learn Sign Language

Ask an Autistic #11 – What is AAC?


Hi everyone, I’m Amythest, and welcome to
“Ask an Autistic”. MUSIC I want a renaissance, to shine a light,
be the change we want, set things right, we’ve been waiting in the dark for so long MUSIC In today’s episode I’m going to be discussing
alternative and augmentative communication, which is also known as AAC. About 15 to 20% of autistic people will never
develop oral communication, that is, speaking verbally with their mouth parts. But that
doesn’t mean that 15 to 20% of autistic people will never communicate, or that they have nothing
to say. And it especially doesn’t mean that 15 to 20% of autistic people need someone to
speak for them. When it comes to AAC there are a lot of options
out there. There is “no tech”, “low tech”, “high tech”. So I am going to talk a bit
about the different methods of AAC and hopefully through hearing about the different methods
out there that are available for you or for your autistic child, you can get some ideas. As far as “no tech” AAC goes, you have
the option of sign language or gestures. There are actually many different types of sign language
out there. There is American Sign Language which is used by the Deaf community to communicate.
It is their language. Contrary to popular belief, American Sign Language isn’t
just English translated into “hand signs”. It is its own language with its own grammar and structure
and its own rules. So if you choose to learn American Sign Language or if you choose
to teach American Sign Language to your autistic child, it’s important to keep in
mind that American Sign Language is a vibrant and living language that is constantly changing
and growing as the Deaf community changes and grows. So American Sign Language is its own
language. But it is an option for nonverbal autistic people who have the motor control
or dexterity necessary to communicate via all the sometimes intricate signs. There is also
something called Signed English. Signed English uses signs from American Sign Language and
their own signs, and it follows the grammatical structure of English. Signed English is really
just Signed English. So Signed English isn’t equivalent to American Sign Language but it
can be useful for people who are nonverbal but do have the dexterity and the motor control
to sign and communicate in that way. For autistic children or for autistic people who
have just begun their AAC journey, gestures can be useful and an important stepping zone to
more advanced methods of AAC. Gestures can be very simple, for example teaching an autistic
child or an autistic person to put their index finger to their mouth to indicate that they’re
hungry. Of course gestures are very limited and so that’s a con. But the pro is that
chances are your autistic child already has some gestures that they use in everyday life to
try to communicate with you. Using a letter board to communicate is one
of the most common methods of AAC used amongst autistic people. When you use a letter
board to communicate you either have a piece of laminated paper or maybe a stencil
with the alphabet on it and you point either with your finger or a pencil or another object
to each letter individually to spell out words in your language. The pros of using a letter
board, besides the obvious of facilitating communication and allowing autistic people
to express themselves is that it takes maybe less dexterity or can be easier on an autistic
person than typing on a keyboard or on a tablet. Two cons are that it can be slow and
so people who aren’t used to communicating with somebody using AAC may become impatient
and of course that’s their problem but it is a con or something to consider. Another thing
to keep in mind is that when you’re using a letter board or the Rapid Prompting Method
to communicate, autistic people can get quite fast, or you can lose track as you are reading.
So you might need somebody sitting nearby to jot down with a pencil and paper what the
autistic person is saying. I’ll link to the website for the Rapid Prompting Method below. I don’t
have a lot of scientific evidence to back it up, but I have heard claims and read stories from
autistic people and their families who have had a lot of success with the Rapid Prompting
Method. And so if you are the parent of an autistic child and you are considering methods
of communication, and you want to go low tech, I would recommend that you look into
the Rapid Prompting Method. I’ll also link to some resources below on how to make your own
letter board. A method of AAC that I use personally when I go nonverbal or when I’m
having a really low spoon day and I don’t have a lot of energy to spend on talking is writing
with a pen or pencil in a notebook. In fact I carry a little notebook with me in my purse at all
times. So if I need to conserve my words or if I have no words left but I need to communicate
something, I can just pull out my little notebook and my pen and I can write to Marvin.
There are times when I am so overloaded or my brain is under a lot of stress because
I am still going through burnout that I actually don’t remember how to write, or if I do
it’s very scribbly. If my dyspraxia is particularly bad that day or if I am having trouble understanding
what letters and words mean, then, you know, that method, writing with a pencil and
a paper is not going to work super well. But on days when I just can’t speak but I can still
write, it does. It works really well. If you are partially verbal or if you go nonverbal, it
is a method of AAC to consider adding to your life because it might just make things easier for
you or enable you to do things that you otherwise would not be able to do when you
are out of words. Now high tech methods of AAC use computers.
Back before tablets and the iPad, there was VOX. And in North American VOX made these
boxes and they were quite chunky, and they had a keyboard, and they would either have
a little screen that what you were typing would scroll across, or a voice output system. And
these were pretty primitive and very expensive. And they were kind of the leading brand. So
autistic people who wanted to communicate using text-to-speech or text-to-voice output
would use VOX. VOX is still out there and nowadays they are less cumbersome and they
sound better so they are still an option, particularly if an autistic person prefers
or needs to actually feel rubbery or raised buttons as opposed to the very sleek glass surface
of a tablet. Nowadays there are so many many apps for the iPad and for other tablets, but
particularly iPad, that can enable a nonverbal autistic person to communicate. I’ve noticed
that they’re kind of split into two categories. The first category is a picture-based system
and in this picture-style app the autistic person or child will select pictures or images of
what they want to say or ask for. In that way it’s very similar to PECS or P.E.C.S. And yes I
haven’t mentioned PECS, and that is because I am going to do another video just on PECS in
the future. So stay tuned for that one. So you have this first category of picture-based AAC apps.
And some of them do have voice output. And then in the second category you have text-to-speech
apps. Apps that you actually pay for or that you pay more for tend to have a lot more
features and a lot more customisable options. But what all text-to-speech apps have in common,
free or paid, is that there’s usually a keyboard. And the keyboard is the main method
of communication. So an autistic person will input a word or a sentence and then the
app will speak the sentence that the autistic person wrote. Paid apps also tend to have
more options for voices, so you can have more feminine or masculine voices, and even different
regional accents. Both picture-to-speech and text-to-speech apps can run pretty pricey.
But when you want a comprehensive app that does everything and that has lots of
customisable options, it seems like paid really is the way to go. But if you’re thinking about
trying out a couple of these apps, I have a couple of free ones that I have tried out and that
I recommend. So I will link to them in the video description below. To conclude, I want to address two frequently
asked questions about AAC. The first question is from parents and it’s a pretty common
one. And the question is “Well, if I provide my autistic child with a method of AAC, will
that inhibit their verbal speech development?” The answer to that one is actually “No”. There’s
two studies. One in 2003 and one in 2006 that I will link to below so the source is there.
These studies showed that it’s actually the opposite. Methods of AAC like text-to-speech can actually
facilitate the development of verbal spoken language in autistic children. Many autistic
children will repeat what their iPad app or what their VOX box outputs. So through that form
of echolalia they can learn to communicate verbally and to be comfortable doing so. The
second question I get about AAC Is “Does my autistic child actually need a form of AAC?”
And to that I say “Yes”. A hundred times yes. To be unable to communicate even your most basic
needs and wants, to be unable to express yourself, your thoughts, your inner world
of emotions and memory, it is very very frustrating. Autistic people deserve and have
the right to communicate. So I say yes, nonverbal autistic children need AAC. And
of course any of these methods of AAC can be used in combination, or together with another
method of AAC. In fact you could put all of them to use if that’s what works for you
or for your autistic child. And for those autistics out there who are partially verbal or who go nonverbal
but are largely verbal most of the time, AAC is for you too. No matter where you are
on the spectrum, if you are autistic, AAC has the potential to change your life for the
better and to enable you to do cool things. So again I will have links to every method of AAC that
I discussed in this video in the video description. Also links on how to make your
own letter board at home. And links to some free iPad apps that I have tried out and that
I recommend. If you have an autism-related question that you would like answered, feel
free to post it in the comment section below or message it to me. This has been “Ask an
Autistic”, with Amythest. Thank you for watching.

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