Two weeks ago I listened to Dr. Pat Mirenda speak at *Holland Bloorview.
Last week I attended a one day workshop put on by Dr. Caroline Musselwhite.
I came away with lots of useful information from both presentations, but the pivotal message from these women (both experts in the field of AAC) is that too many people assume that language will magically happen if we simply give our non-speaking children a speech device.
Dr. Musselwhite spoke of speech therapists who complain when a child has had a device for three months but isn't using it very well. She then put things into perspective with this question, "When was the last time you heard a baby talk at three months old? Six months old? Even nine months?"
Likewise, Dr. Mirenda reported that the average child hears 6 million different words by the time he is three. How many symbols are non-speaking children exposed to when their caregivers communicate with them? Zero. Yet, we give those non-speaking children devices, on which language is represented by symbols, and then get frustrated when they aren't showing success with their device after three months?
We chatter away to our babies from the moment they are born and by the time they reach 15 to 18 months of age we start to reap the rewards. Some word approximations are finally mimicked back to us. Why should we expect our non-verbal children to be any different? They will imitate us too, but they need someone to model for them this unique, symbol based method of communication. They need to be shown how to use their device through modelling which needs to be ongoing.
Think about the hardest thing you ever learned to do. How many times were you shown how to do it before you had it mastered?
*Louise Kinross (editor of Bloom magazine) wrote a blog post about Dr. Mirenda's talk. It is worth reading and can be found here.
Disclaimer: Views in the Not Being Able to Speak series are derived from my personal experience with Carter. I do not speak on behalf of others with complex communication needs. It is not my intent to minimize or disregard the power of expression that can be found through the use of augmentative and alternative forms of communication.