What are speech-generating devices?
Speech-generating devices are hand-held electronic devices that play words or phrases when the user touches a switch or presses buttons or keys. Some devices ‘speak’ words as the words are typed on a keyboard.
Speech-generating devices can be specialised devices used only for communication. They can also be tablets, laptops or other common devices with speech-generating apps or functions.
These devices are also known as communication devices, electronic augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices or systems and voice output communication aids.
Who are speech-generating devices for?
People who have difficulty developing language or communicating using speech use speech-generating devices.
These devices are most commonly used by people who have difficulty pronouncing words because of a physical disability like cerebral palsy or acquired brain injury. Autistic children sometimes use speech-generating devices, particularly when they’re developing speech and language.
What are speech-generating devices used for?
Speech-generating devices let people ‘speak’ words and sentences electronically.
Where do speech-generating devices come from?
Speech-generating devices have been used to help autistic children communicate since the 1990s.
What is the idea behind speech-generating devices for autistic children?
Speech-generating devices allow people who can’t use spoken language to ‘speak’ electronically.
Some autistic children have difficulties developing speech and language, which makes communicating their needs and ideas very difficult. This can lead to frustration and behaviour challenges. Because speech-generating devices can give some autistic children a way to communicate, they might help with children’s behaviour too.
What do speech-generating devices involve?
The child chooses the icon on the speech-generating device that corresponds to what they want to communicate. So if the child wants to eat an apple, they can push the button with a picture of an apple. The device plays a recorded human voice or computer-generated voice that says, ‘I want an apple’.
More complex devices allow people to communicate by typing words or combining pictures to make sentences.
Do speech-generating devices help autistic children?
Research on speech-generating devices shows that autistic children can use them to communicate and that children often prefer them to other AAC systems. Speech-generating devices don’t stop children from speaking if they’re able to speak.
More large-scale research is needed to work out which systems suit which children, and how children can best use speech-generating devices.
Who practises this method?
Many speech pathologists have experience in training people to use communication aids, including speech-generating devices. Occupational therapists sometimes also have training in this area.
Where can you find a practitioner?
Find practitioners by going to:
If you’re interested in speech-generating devices, you could speak about them with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk about them with your NDIA planner, early childhood partner or local area coordinator, if you have one.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
You need to choose and buy an appropriate speech-generating device for your child. You also need to be involved in:
- learning how to support your child’s communication with the device
- using the device with your child
- ensuring that everyone in your child’s environment knows how to use the device.
You also need to encourage your child’s attempts to communicate using the device throughout the day.
Speech-generating devices can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
A child should see a speech pathologist to choose the most suitable device, set up the device with individually chosen words, and learn how to use the device.
The cost of seeing a speech pathologist or other specialist about using a speech-generating device 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.
You can contact the NDIS to find out whether you can include the cost of a speech-generating device and speech pathology in children’s NDIS plans.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.