Celebrating Augmentative and Alternative Communication month
Date Posted: Monday, October 24, 2016

The power of communication

“The impact of success in this field is very powerful. We have the ability to support individuals as they find their voice,” says Toni Southern, Senior Clinician, Augmentative Communication, John McGivney Children’s Centre (JMCC).

October is Augmentative and Alternative Communication month and it is a great opportunity to reflect on the important work of the team at JMCC while raising awareness about the different ways people can communicate.

The JMCC Augmentative Communication program is responsible for providing written and face-to-face communication assistance to Windsor and Essex County residents up to the age of 21. The clinic also provides service to adults on a case-by-case basis. The team is made up of ten staff including Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, a Communication Disorders Assistant and a technician. They work with individuals and their families to determine the best strategies for success.

The large majority of individuals seen in Augmentative Communication at JMCC are seeking assistance with their face-to-face communication. Communication for these individuals can come in a variety of forms including vocalizations or signing and gestures. Also, language development is often realized thanks to the technology of assistive devices. These devices can be controlled by typing on a keyboard or by the touch of a button, either by the hand or another part of the body. Other devices can be controlled by eye gaze or head pointing. Depending on the capabilities of the individuals, the team works to identify the system that will work best for them. 


While the technology of these devices has evolved over the years, one of the most important determinants of success is dedication and support. When a client is referred to JMCC, the team meets with them and their caregivers. It is important that before taking a device home, the individual and their family commit the time to learning and practicing communication strategies which help support language development. Once it is determined that the individual and their family are comfortable with this, they are able to obtain their device. Devices are most often purchased or leased with the support of ADP funding. 

While individuals continue to have check-ins at the centre, it is essential that they have practice and support using their communications device in their environment. Therapists from the team often spend time with clients at home and at school or work, to see how they are adapting to using their new language in their environments.

Individuals with communication disabilities are often misunderstood. It is often presumed that they cannot hear, understand or answer. At JMCC, the team is working to squash this stereotype by practicing under a philosophy that they hope will permeate throughout the community.

“Presume they can. Support them if they can’t with opportunities and strategies,” says Southern. According to her, one of the most rewarding and impactful parts of the work of the Augmentative Communication team is watching their successful clients exceed everyone’s expectations.


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