By Raising Children Network
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At a glance: Speech-generating devices (SGDs)
Type of therapy
The claim
Improves communication
Suitable for
People with autism who have little or no spoken language
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Not yet reviewed by our research sources.

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

20+ Because this therapy is a method of communication, it involves daily use.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

$120+ There is a high initial cost to purchase a speech-generating device. This could be several hundred or several thousand dollars.
Visit the Autism Services Pathfinder to browse service provider information.

About this intervention

What is it?
Speech-generating devices (SGDs) for people with ASD are hand-held electronic devices that play prerecorded words or phrases when the user flips a switch or presses buttons or keys.

Who is it for?
SGDs can be used by people who have difficulty communicating in speech, including some people with ASD. SGDs can help these people give or express information. SGDs can also be used to help people with ASD understand information. Researchers are also looking into using SGDs to help children develop speech and tune into the sound patterns in language.

What is it used for?
SGDs let people ‘speak’ words and sentences electronically. This technology is most often used by people who have difficulty pronouncing words because of a physical disability such as cerebral palsy or acquired brain injury. SGDs are also sometimes used by people with ASD.

Where does it come from?
SGDs have been used to help children with ASD communicate since the 1990s.

What is the idea behind it?
SGDs allow people who can’t use spoken language to ‘speak’ electronically. Children with ASD are often good at visual processing, and the idea is that this ability can be effectively combined with the use of an SGD to improve communication.

What does it involve?
The child chooses the icon on the SGD that corresponds to what he wants to ‘say’. So if he wants something to eat – for example, an apple – he can push the button with a picture of the food he wants. The device plays a recorded human voice or computer-generated voice that says, ‘I want an apple’.

Cost considerations
SGDs can cost several hundred or several thousand dollars. The child will usually also need to see a speech pathologist to set up the device with individually chosen words and to learn how to use it. An occupational therapist can also help with using the device to communicate.

The cost of therapy to introduce the use of a SGD might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare, depending on the professional providing the consultation. Some private health care funds might also cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

Does it work?
This therapy has not yet been rated. A recent study found it was ‘potentially effective’.

Who practises this method?
Many speech pathologists have experience in training people to use communication aids, including SGDs. Occupational therapists sometimes also have training in this area.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents will need to select and purchase an appropriate SGD. They might need training by a speech pathologist or occupational therapist in the use of the device with their child. Parents will also need to encourage their child’s attempts to communicate using the device.

Where can I find a practitioner?
You can find a speech pathologist through the Speech Pathology Australia website. You can find an occupational therapist through Occupational Therapy Australia.

You could also contact your state autism association and ask them to recommend a service or practitioner.

The following is a list of state-based organisations that supply SGDs and assess people’s needs in this area:

  • Last updated or reviewed 21-08-2012