What are speech-generating devices?
Speech-generating devices are hand-held electronic devices that play pre-recorded 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 are specialised devices used only for communication. They also include 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 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?
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 difficulties. 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 ‘say’. 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 users to communicate by typing words and sentences.
Speech-generating devices can cost several hundred or several thousand 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 therapist 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 might be able to include the cost of buying a speech-generating device and getting speech pathology in children’s NDIS plans. You can contact the NDIS to find out.
Do speech-generating devices work?
Research on speech-generating devices shows that autistic children can use them to communicate, and that children often prefer them to other AAC systems.
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?
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.
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, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.