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Augmentative and Alternative Communication:
Everybody Has to Say Something
Taking part in the lessons without speaking? Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) makes it possible. With so-called Talkers children with speech impediments can actively take part in the lessons at the Hirtenweg school in Hamburg, Germany. Thus they get the chance to be like all pupils to a certain extent – a little normality far away from the role as an outsider.
Using their talkers pupils can take an active part during the lessons;
© School Hirtenweg
Communication is an integral part of our life. When wanting to say something or to express our thoughts and feelings, we simply rattle on. However, the possibility to communicate is not taken for granted for everybody. People who cannot make themselves understood with the help of the spoken language or the body language often have difficulties in their private and professional life. However, Augmentative and Alternative Communication can help them to regard themselves as a part of our society.
There are three different kinds of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): gestures and body’s own communication, non-electronic communication forms, as for example symbols, and electronic voice output machines. Thanks to AAC, people who can only communicate hardly or even not at all, due to their disability, can now tell others what their demands, worries or thoughts are.
AAC catches on
At the school for physically handicapped Hirtenweg in Hamburg, Germany, AAC is a big subject. 35 of a total of 200 pupils use different forms of the AAC: „Each of 35 children has a pedagogue who looks after the development and consultation of the pupil with AAC,“ says the special pedagogue Brigitta Hoffmann-Schöneich. The teachers of the school Hirtenweg work especially with symbols and electronic communication facilities because most children have primarily motor disabilities and cannot communicate with gestures or gesticulation.
The children using AAC take actively part in the lessons five times per week and are distributed to 20 classes. Moreover, they meet regularly in small groups and exchange their experiences. „We include actively the children during the lessons. Like it is in a usual school, they have to answer questions and deal with suitable homework. They are a part of the class and also feel like that,“ explains Hoffmann-Schöneich.
Mainly children with motor disabilities visit the school Hirtenweg. A part of them uses AAC; © School Hirtenweg
The teachers adapt the homework to the abilities of the children communicating with the help of AAC. Those of them who are used to working with the voice output machine can handle it better and faster. The pupils then talk in whole sentences about their family or about what they have experienced on holiday. Those children who only start communicating with a so-called Talker first speak in headwords or short statements. „It is like teaching a small child how to speak. In the course of the time our pupils learn according to their abilities how to use their auxiliary means better and better. Often they become so good that they can talk quite normally and even discuss,“ tells the special pedagogue.
Parents ask, teachers answer
Moreover, since 1990 the school in Hamburg also has an advice centre for AAC. The parents who would like to enrol their child at the school will be individually advised by the teachers and educators. Depending on which kind of disability is given with the child and which communicative abilities it has acquired up to now it needs a certain voice output machine. The Hirtenweg school offers different working means which the new children can try out: from easy machines with only one key up to complex Talkers: The parents or teachers record certain words or whole sentences on the electronic assistants. Then the children can play the statements by pressing a button with the finger, the foot or by moving their eyes and therefore express themselves. When having found an optimal device for their child, the parents can submit an application for it to their health insurance which usually bears the costs.
AAC does not only make life easier for disabled children. Also adults who are not able to communicate by using spoken language, for example, on account of an accident or stroke, need AAC. With the help of gestures, symbols or electronic voice output machines they can take part actively in life.
AAC goes around the world
Meanwhile there are worldwide numerous places of information and advice centres which have specialised on AAC and its different target groups. Also in Germany this subject is nothing new. The Internationally Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) is one of many international organisations who inform about AAC. The ISAAC Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication is a global network from scientists, therapists, teachers, but also affected persons and their relatives. The association promotes communication possibilities not only for children, but also for youngsters and adults who cannot communicate by spoken language.
The company has 2300 members and gets involved in AAC in 43 countries in the whole world. "It is the aim of ISAAC to spread the interests of people communicating with AAC in public and to change the point of view for them," says Wolfgang Breul, member of the executive board of the German-speaking department ISAAC GSC. One of the main affairs is to provide AAC users in jobs suitable for them. "Our best example is a young woman using AAC who also was an ISAAC member of the executive board and today studies at a university with the help of AAC."
Beside the job service ISAAC also offers information for affected persons, their relatives and people who are interested occupationally in AAC. Moreover, the association organises advanced training for teachers and educators. The participants can attend introductory courses as well as advanced courses and they have the possibility to acquire a certificate. The more certified staff knows a lot about AAC, the more people with disabilities can be helped.
Communication gives us the feeling of belonging somewhere. Whether family, circle of friends or colleagues – we would like to be a part of the community. Through communication people express themselves, develop their personality and have influence on others. Augmentative and Alternative Communication also allows this to those who, at first sight, only seem to take part quietly in their life. Since, like once Christoph Leyendecker, professor for rehabilitation educational theory at the University of Technology of Dortmund, said: „Also who cannot speak, has to say a lot“.