Using Assistive Technology to Help Individuals with Autism Express Themselves

(Image Credit: AHRC New York City)

Verbal communication is one of the troubles faced by some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they are unable to convey their wants and needs.

This inability to speak will significantly affect a person’s quality of life, as well as their learning ability and day-to-day interactions with others.

Furthermore, they may feel frustrated and helpless over being unable to express themselves, possibly leading to behavioural problems.

Many children with ASD or other developmental issues have problems with speech development, said Dr Susheel Kaur Dhillon, who is a senior lecturer and speech language pathologist at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

To help the child develop language skills, conventional speech therapy is first carried out. However if the prognosis of a child developing speech is poor, regardless of age, then Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) aid will be introduced.


With the development of touchscreen mobile devices and apps, high tech AAC have become more and more accessible to the wider populace. (Image Credit: Novita Tech)

Technology to Help with Speech

AAC is not a new concept, as it has long been developed to help non-verbal individuals express themselves. There are low tech and high tech AACs, with common low tech AACs being basic gestures, sign language, and using pictures, according to The Star.

High tech AACs are not exactly new either. Along with the development of microprocessor technology, small AAC companies have been building dedicated AAC systems that use synthesised speech.

These systems were often heavy, unwieldy, and costly. One such example is the speech-generating device (SGD) or voice output communication aid used by the late Stephen Hawkins.

However, with the development of touchscreen mobile devices and apps, high tech AAC have become more and more accessible to the wider populace.

Usage of such assistive tech is increasing, but it still requires the guidance of speech therapists. A speech therapist will usually assess their clients and decide on the most suitable AAC to use, depending on the person’s abilities, support, and family situation.

That said, the biggest challenge that therapists face when using AAC is actually the concern of parents. There tends to be worries from parents that their children will become dependent on AAC, and not develop speech. This even applies to basic low tech AACs like sign language and visual cards.

However, there is no reason for parents to fear. Much research has proven that there are no negative effects of AAC and it certainly will not stop the child from speaking, said Dr Susheel. In fact, it is the opposite as the positive effect of such assistive tech is that the child might actually start speaking.

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