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Views of young people using augmentative and alternative communication systems

Lookup NU author(s): Emerita Professor Helen McConachie


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Children with physical impairments who cannot use intelligible speech are often recommended augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. In England and Wales, it is usually the job of speech and language therapists to support development in AAC skills. This paper reports findings from discussion with children and young people who use AAC systems concerning their attitudes and opinions towards the organization of speech and language therapy, the role of the speech and language therapist in school and issues concerned with AAC systems themselves. Six young adults and 17 children from London education authorities were interviewed on a one-to-one basis and in focus groups. Children were interviewed who had a communication aid incorporating at least 20 symbols and/or pictures and/or written words, language understanding at the two-word level and above, i.e. they demonstrated understanding of adult requests with at least two information carrying words. For children using communication aids, it is conceivable that their communication systems do not contain appropriate symbol vocabulary to express complex ideas, opinions and feelings. Consequently, a symbol-based interview tool was designed to allow children to express complex issues through visual means. Most children interviewed reported that their AAC system was useful to them. Further analysis of opinions revealed that negative attitudes towards AAC systems were primarily associated with operational issues (technical skills required to operate an AAC system) and issues of self-image/identity, and to some degree, with a lack of perceived benefit in interaction. In apparent contrast to therapists' preferred models of working, children and young people identified a preference for therapy organized on a one-to-one basis targeting Linguistic and operational skills. It is suggested that more acceptable and individualized design of AAC systems could have implications for their use in school and other contexts. The value of service users' views in service planning and evaluation are discussed.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McConachie H; Clarke M; Price K; Wood P

Publication type: Editorial

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders

Year: 2001

Volume: 36

Issue: 1

Pages: 107-115

ISSN (print): 1868-2822

ISSN (electronic): 1460-6984

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons


DOI: 10.1080/13682820150217590