Normal speech versus communication

To read on Bloom website:

How ideas about ‘normal’ speech silence children

By Louise Kinross   Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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I read a fascinating story in Holland Bloorview scientist Barbara Gibson’s new book that looks at how cultural notions of what’s « normal » influence what we value in rehab.

The book is called Rehabilitation: A Post-Critical Approach.

The story was about a high school student whose most efficient way of communicating was to speak in a way that wasn’t intelligible by others—but which her mother could easily translate. The student was able to use a voice-generating device, but said it was slow, cumbersome and tiring. She only used it at school where no one understood her speech.

Which way of “speaking” is better? Using the voice device would give the student a higher score on a rehab test of “independent communication,” but the student said speaking with the support of her mother is much easier and faster.

I reached out to Barbara and learned that this story was contributed by Gail Teachman, who worked for over 20 years as an occupational therapist at Holland Bloorview. She just completed her PhD in philosophy at the University of Toronto’s Rehabilitation Science Institute. Gail co-wrote one of the chapters in Barbara’s book.

Gail’s doctoral research involved interviewing 13 high school students who used alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) about what inclusion means to them. The term AAC is used broadly, to include voice devices, gestures, pictures, utterances and other ways of expression. Gail encouraged participants to communicate in their preferred modes and in any way they felt most comfortable.

“A lot started off wanting to impress me and show what a ‘good’ communicator they are using technology,” Gail said. “But once they relaxed into the interview, they more often relied on a family member as a communication partner and I was able to see how they more typically communicate.”

All chose to have a mother or sibling participate so that they could use speech or gestures, which their family member translated, to save energy.

“Even as a seasoned AAC clinician, I understood very little of their speech. This is not speech most people would understand at first. It was like having a door opened to a room that I had never been in because the person felt comfortable and the family understood just about everything the youth said. It was a privilege for me to see that these families have learned to understand their child’s communication in ways that are different but no less valuable. It was so rich and so moving.”

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