Some individuals with cerebral palsy have difficulties with expressive language and speaking. There is a wealth of ‘augmentative and alternative communication’ systems (or AACs) to suit their needs, ranging from the simplest picture-based flashcard apps to complex, custom-programmed voice synthesis programs like VocalID, which crowd sources human voices from around the world to give people of all ages unique voice prints of their own rather than standard robotic computer-synthesized speech. These assistive technologies help people with disabilities navigate the world around them with greater ease and independence.
High-tech computer-based speech systems must be carefully selected for individuals based on their abilities, preferences and price range. For example, some children with cerebral palsy may be nonverbal, or they may have mobility limitations that can make fine motor coordination difficult, especially if they have spasticity. These children – particularly those with severe spasticity – may benefit from revolutionary eye gaze tracking systems like the Tobii or Dynavox, which can pair with free apps like Gazepeaker for a comprehensive communication system.
Systems like the Tobii, however, can cost thousands of dollars – something that parents of children with disabilities may not have available due to preexisting financial pressures. While there are few low-cost replacements for systems as technically advanced as Tobii, there are many AAC solutions on the low-cost end of the market through the Android and Apple app stores. These systems often still offer flexibility and customizable features, but are generally designed for individuals whose disability is not quite as severe. Many of them are even developed by families of children with disabilities, like TippyTalk – a tool one dad decided to program after his daughter was diagnosed with autism.
Some of the most cutting-edge AAC technologies have taken a different track – rather than focusing on eye tracking or phone/tablet technologies, these technologies bypass physical cues entirely to let users ‘think to speak.’ This opens up these AACs to an even broader user base, using an app called :prose with an EEG headset to translate sensor data into spoken language. While this technology is still in its infancy, and still very expensive, the proliferation of such solutions means that these devices may soon become far more accessible as prices drop.
The proliferation of several of high-tech computer-assisted communication systems mean that parents might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities for their child. However – there is a simple solution that parents can take to help make a decision about what kind of high-tech speech-generating device they can get for their child: getting their child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. Speech-language pathologists specialize in helping children communicate, and are some of the professionals best equipped to help parents navigate through the multitude of communication systems out there.
Parents worried about the cost of dedicated speech systems should know they can sometimes talk to their insurance companies about shelling out for dedicated communication systems. There are also numerous organizations devoted to helping people with disabilities, such as RESNA, which can help families find rehabilitation professionals that can make custom recommendations based on their child’s unique situation.