SPD Held Its First-Ever Young Adults’ AAC Event

SPD’s Specialised Assistive Technology Centre (Specialised ATC) held its first-ever Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) event for young adults on 27 October 2017.

SPD’s Specialised Assistive Technology Centre (Specialised ATC) held its first-ever Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) event for young adults on 27 October 2017. Individuals who have complex communication needs are empowered to express themselves more effectively and efficiently through the use of AAC systems. AAC systems can range from low tech communication charts, gestures and vocalisations to sophisticated computerised speech generating devices.

With the help of volunteers, four young adults with complex communication needs, aged up to nine years old, and their caregivers, came together for a fun and interactive experience using AAC. The participants used their communication devices to make choices, express preferences, and negotiate with their partners as they played games and shopped for tea time.

Planning for the event started a few months ago when the Specialised ATC team decided that, having planned two successful AAC parties for younger clients, it was time to focus on young adults.

The team planned the event with the following learning objectives in mind:

(1) Help clients improve their communication skills and the use of the AAC systems, thereby increasing communication functions e.g. requesting, asking and answering questions, as well as commenting;

(2) Provide a platform for caregivers to network with each other and to learn strategies to facilitate communication with their children.

One of the highlights was the modified Amazing Race where communication was key in place of speed. Participants were scored based on their interaction and communication with one another as well as with the pit-stop facilitators, along with the use of various communication functions and their game score.

Here are some interesting exchanges that took place (please note that unless otherwise stated, all ‘dialogue’ was produced through AAC):

At the beginning of the event, Ruppa typed on his Lightwriter, a speech generating device, “H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E”. After some persuasion he added “T-R-Y T-H-E G-A-M-E”. Two hours later, Ruppa and his partner were announced winners of the event!

Lesson of the day: Don’t let a headache stop you.
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Leonard: I want to stop (playing the guessing game, Hedbanz)
Rachel: No
Leonard: I want to stop
Rachel: No
Leonard: I want to stop

Rachel finally gave in and the team moved on to the next pit stop.

Lesson of the day: Persistent communication is key.

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While shopping for tea-time at the supermarket, Seng Koon expressed his preference for a chocolate cake while Ruppa chose butter cake. After Seng Koon excused himself to go to the washroom, Ruppa informed the facilitators at the supermarket pit-stop, using his communication device no less, that the team would go with two chocolate cakes instead. What a sport!

Lesson of the day: While your rights are important, communication is also about give-and-take.

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Seng Koon was playing music on an iPad app with one hand.

Facilitator: Ruppa, how would you rate Seng Koon’s performance on a scale of 1- 10?
Ruppa: 7

Seng Koon laughed and started making music with both hands enthusiastically.

Lesson of the day: Use the power of communication to spur your friends to greater heights.
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It was heartening to see that the participants accommodating to each other’s preferences and suggestions.

There was also a separate programme planned for the caregivers, who gathered to share and reflect. Through Skype, they were able to communicate with the President Elect of the International Society for AAC, Meredith Allan. Meredith is a person who uses AAC and an accomplished presenter and advocate of AAC. During the Skype session, the parents shared their experiences and opinions about the AAC situation in Singapore. They also listened to Meredith’s perspective and advice on strategies that might help facilitate communication.

Some of the key themes expressed included:
– The lack of understanding in the community for individuals with complex communication needs who use AAC;
– The need for a support community of caregivers of individuals who use AAC;
– The limited number of opportunities that individuals who use AAC have to develop friendships and relationships.

All the parents, however, expressed that the ability to communicate had greatly changed and empowered their children’s lives.

In the short few hours, a bond was formed among the caregivers who would go on to support each other after the session.

Article is contributed by speech therapist Deborah Yong, and Specialised ATC’s head of clinical services Sarah Yong.