When 5-year-old Thomas was handed an Android tablet at the start of his regular weekend children’s class, he probably thought he was going to spend the next two hours playing a video game.
But battling enemies, seeking power boosts, and conquering levels were not what his teacher had in mind.
Like 1 in 68 children in the United States, Thomas had been diagnosed with autism and like nearly 40% of autistic children, he was almost completely non-verbal.
Yet, instead of giving Thomas a device to keep him quiet and occupied while she taught the other children, Thomas’ teacher, with the support of his parents, did exactly the opposite. She gave him a device that would help him speak up.
This tablet had been loaded with an alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) app called CoughDrop which Thomas could use to express words and phrases — something his physical voice couldn’t do for him. The program was packed with a variety of speech boards, each containing buttons which Thomas could press so they would vocalize words and express himself.
Suddenly, instead of having to just sit in his chair quietly, Thomas could share an answer or tell his classmates how he felt that day — he usually said he felt “silly.” He could ask to sit on his teacher’s lap (which he did often) or say he needed to go to the bathroom. And he could do it in a way that every other five year old in the classroom could understand.
Through an app, Thomas was given the gift of communication.
That is the power of AAC.
No matter a person’s age or diagnosis, not being able to speak can be a crippling blow to individuals and families. Whether due to autism, cerebral palsy, Rett Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, aphasia, or stroke the loss of — or lack of — voice is debilitating.
How do you express your needs and feelings? How do you build relationships and engage with the people around you? How do you share your insights or answer questions or join in a discussion? How do you say ‘I love you?’
So, while iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, Windows devices, and Kindles are often used for entertainment, AAC gives these cold, flat pieces of equipment the chance to become something bigger. It offers them the opportunity to change the life of a person who might otherwise never get to express what they have to say.
AAC presents a box of wires and circuits the possibility of becoming a person’s voice. It brings those without a voice of their own — incredible people just like Thomas — back into the conversation.
And that’s exactly where they belong.
Because everyone has something to say.