Helping Children and Adults with Autism Overcome Barriers to Connection

Many adults and children with autism are nonspeaking or have limited speech and communication skills. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can help them communicate, often using speech-generating devices (SGDs) that can be operated with the hands, eyes or even a tilt of the head. SGD technology has advanced to the point that many people with autism and other severe speech impediments are now able to more easily speak and connect with others, greatly improving quality of life.

About Nonspeaking Autism and How AAC Can Help

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have problems with social, emotional and communication skills because they have different ways of learning, paying attention and reacting or responding to things. Research has shown that about 30% of people with ASD don’t learn to speak more than a few words.

Not all nonspeaking people are truly nonverbal. Some can recognize and respond to words in writing. Others can respond to icons, symbols and gestures. All of these can be incorporated into an AAC plan. Equipment and methods vary depending on the needs and skills of the nonspeaking person. In most cases, insurance or Medicaid will cover the cost of the equipment and training.

Some parents and other caretakers worry that the use of AAC will discourage ordinary speech development. However, the opposite is true. AAC helps nonspeaking people associate words with their meanings. It can help them express feelings, ask and answer questions, and make requests. Better communication can also help reduce stress and frustration for people with autism and those who care for them.

At Penn State Health, we’re committed to our work because we know how life-changing AAC can be. We can help nonspeaking people communicate their wants and needs, participate in the community, form relationships and advocate for themselves, so they can live more fully and independently.

First Steps

When a physician refers a patient to our program, we’ll schedule an evaluation. During this first visit, we’ll assess fine motor skills, receptive language skills, expressive language, vision and hearing. Then, we’ll match the person with the equipment and training that best meet their specific needs.

To find out more or refer a patient, call 717-531-8338.

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Our AAC program for people with autism is the only one of its kind in the region. Our specialists are trained in matching people of all ages with the equipment and support needed to communicate as effectively and fully as possible. We also work with family and caregivers to ensure they have the support and resources they need.

The program’s entire staff is trained and experienced in working with nonverbal children and adults. We can help you and your loved one feel comfortable and at ease with SGDs and other tools for communicating. Our goal is functional communication to prevent a nonspeaking person from being isolated by their condition.

As technology advances and knowledge grows, people with autism and others who have challenges with speech and communication may have access to more tools and solutions to help them live fuller, more connected lives. Penn State Health is involved with autism research, and we’re committed to finding better ways to help people and families affected by autism.

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