Augmentative Communications for Cerebral Palsy


teen boy with cerebral palsy in front of oversized mobile phone displaying web page with vision tracking, an electronic tablet displaying a communication board, and an orange background

Augmentative communication devices enhance communication for those with cerebral palsy by augmenting their speech patterns, gestures, and vocalizations. They may improve communication and allow those with cerebral palsy to make new connections with family members, friends, and others in their community. Read on to learn about the many kinds of communication devices for cerebral palsy available today.

Manual Communication Boards

A manual communication board is an effective “no-tech” option that allows children with limited speech to communicate by choosing pictures, words, or symbols from a laminated sheet. Items on the board are specific to your child’s abilities and language skills. Many families use situation-specific communication boards. Boards for meals, bedtime, or school activities can provide faster communication between your child and caregivers.

Children often start with a single communication board, but as children mature it is often helpful to incorporate multiple boards into a flipbook. Flipbooks have multiple board layers, including the alphabet (for spelling new or unique words), core vocabulary words, parts of speech, common questions, feelings, punctuation, descriptive words (such as hot), and common responses (yes or no).

If your child is using a manual communication board at school, the board layout is critical. Communication boards should be organized to maximize learning, with open spaces to add new words and phrases. Students usually have a beginner, intermediate, and end-of-year board, with the same format and positioning of learned keywords and phrases. Boards can also be color-coded for parts of speech (red for nouns, for example), setting (home versus school), and more. Teachers, aides, and therapists can help you determine the best organizational system for your child’s communication board.

Even if your child is currently using an augmentative communication device or app, it is advisable to keep manual boards in use as well. Should your electronic communication board ever fail or require service, the manual boards ensure your child always has access to an effective method of communication.

Electronic Communication Boards

An electronic communication board allows your child to select words, phrases, pictures, and letters from the screen of a laptop or tablet. Simple electronic communication boards are static, incorporating one board with the parts of speech, the alphabet, and commonly used responses. Advanced electronic communication boards are more dynamic and can include many boards. High-tech electronic communication devices may also incorporate eye-tracking technology and speech generation, allowing those with cerebral palsy greater access to communication than ever before.

Eye-Tracking Devices

Cerebral palsy may sometimes make it difficult for a patient to control their arms and hands, therefore limiting their use of a communication board that relies on pointing or touching a picture. Eye-tracking technology allows your child to control the electronic communication board using the movement of their eyes. Users can select words, phrases, and more by focusing on the desired image for a short time. With eye-tracking technology, children can dictate schoolwork, chat on a phone call, send texts or emails, post on social media platforms, and play games with others.

Eye-tracking, sometimes also referred to as gaze-tracking, can be extremely helpful for children with limited mobility. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of eye-tracking technology can be affected by sunlight and other environmental factors.

Speech-Generating Devices

Also known as voice output communication aids (VOCAs) or medi-talkers, these devices can produce electronic speech. A medi-talker for cerebral palsy vocalizes words or phrases chosen by the user from the device screen. The speech produced by a VOCA may be from a recording of the board user or computer-generated. Displays may be a single, static layer of words and symbols or multiple dynamic pages encapsulating dozens of words, common phrases, and situation-specific text.

Speech-generating devices range in size from small, portable devices to those large enough to be mounted on a wheelchair. Speech-generating devices are controlled by finger-pointing, a joystick, gaze-tracking, and switch scanning.

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) System

Also known as computer speech recognition or speech to text (STT), an ASR system is often part of a laptop, tablet, or phone app. Automatic speech recognition technology is especially helpful for children who have dysarthria speech issues.

An ASR system is designed to understand dysarthria speech patterns and translate this speech into both text and synthesized voice messages. Automated speech recognition not only enhances communication, but it also offers children with cerebral palsy access to voice-activated home systems that might not otherwise recognize dysarthria speech. An ASR system also has the benefit of being extremely portable.

While the technology used to create speech devices for cerebral palsy is rapidly improving, finding the right augmentative communications device for your child can be time-consuming and often requires many consultations with medical professionals. The search for enhanced communication can also require a great deal of financial commitment. If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical malpractice, you may be able to seek financial compensation to offset the cost of modern communication devices. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC today to set up an obligation-free consultation.

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