Communication is more than just speech

By Staff writers, 28 August 2020 , Comments

This week is Speech Pathology Week, a week that seeks to promote the speech pathology profession and the work done by speech pathologists with the 1.2 million Australians who have a communication disability. The theme for this year is Communicating with confidence.

Did you know that…?

  • 1.2 million Australians live with a communication disability
  • communication disabilities are largely invisible, unseen and out-of-sight
  • more confident communication helps maximise educational, health and social outcomes
  • communication is more than just speech.

To understand why communication is more than just speech, we had a chat with Rania Azzi, Speech Pathologist at Northcott, who specialises in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Augmentative communication uses other forms of communication (e.g. pictures, gestures, signing) together with speech, and alternative communication uses other forms of communication instead of speech. AAC devices can be low tech and high tech; some examples include eye gaze devices, switches, communication books and key word signs.

Sometimes people with communication difficulties can face barriers to access services only because of lack of awareness on what is available. Just because a person is non verbal, doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. There’s certainly a wide range of options for those who need to replace speech or support it. AAC devices allow people who have limited speech, unclear speech or no speech to have a voice. There’s a range of ways to communicate beyond speech, so if you know someone who is non verbal, there may be an alternative option out there that can assist them in having their voices heard.

AAC devices have provided significant improvements to the people Rania works with, and she shares some examples of that. “I worked with a woman who found it very difficult to communicate exactly what she wanted effectively in the community. She had significant difficulties with speech clarity. This meant that others were often guessing what she wanted and this led to people misunderstanding her. For example, going to a café, asking for a drink and getting another drink instead because her request was misunderstood. After introducing a communication system called Proloquo2Go, she is much more confident now when she is out and about as she has the ability to clearly ask for the exact things she wants, and correct others if they have misunderstood her.”

“Another example is an eight year old boy who had significant difficulty expressing himself; he could not be understood by others and this led to great frustration as there was a lot in his mind that he wanted to say. We implemented a system called PODD with Compass and he is now able to communicate specific messages, which have significantly lowered his levels of frustration and provided him with a way of expressing himself more clearly to others. I have also seen many individuals who have had no verbal speech and through the introduction of communication systems, can now have a way of having their voices heard. There are a number of communication options for people of all abilities.” said Rania.

Eye gaze devices have also allowed individuals who have no other controlled, consistent movement other than their eyes to be able to access the whole world around them. These devices can allow an individual to access a comprehensive communication system, the ability to turn lights on and off, make Skype calls and so much more. All that is required to be able to use a communication system is a consistent controlled movement. The time it takes to learn how to use a communication system varies from person to person but having access to these systems can truly change a person’s life.

“For a communication system to be implemented successfully, the people who communicate with AAC users play a significant role. It is truly a team effort!,” adds Rania.

Speech Pathology Week is a great opportunity to learn more about communication and all the options available for everyone to have a voice, no matter their ability.

For more information about communication disability in Australia, visit this link with a summary created by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).


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