Devices give people a chance to speak up
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Like many people with autism, Paul Kotler, 18, has trouble speaking to others, but can share his thoughts in detail by typing on a computer keyboard.
More information is available on the AAC Institute's Web site, www.aacinstitute.org.
His mother, Melinda, is helping him to obtain a device that would allow him to tap out his thoughts more quickly, then use it to speak them aloud.
"It's going to be life-changing for him," said Mrs. Kotler, of Downingtown.
She and her son were among about 60 people who attended an international symposium on augmentative and alternative communication devices, which allow people with speech disorders to communicate using electronically produced voices.
The fourth annual symposium, held Friday and Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh, was organized by the nonprofit AAC Institute, which works to promote the best possible communication for people who cannot speak.
As many as 2.5 million people, including children with cerebral palsy or autism and adults who suffer strokes or develop Lou Gehrig's disease, could benefit from the devices. Others who temporarily cannot speak -- for example, because they have been intubated -- also may be helped.
But many fewer people actually use the devices, in part because of a lack of awareness of their benefits.
The symposium aimed to establish research goals and clinical practice principles that will lead to better outcomes, and to help people who use the devices and their family members advocate more effectively, said Dr. Katya Hill, an associate professor at Pitt's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the AAC Institute's executive director.
While the cost of the devices can be a concern, helping people to more effectively communicate can decrease their dependence on others, she noted.
"When you help someone communicate, you are not just helping that person, but all the people with whom he or she interacts," Colin Portnuff said in his opening remarks to the symposium.
Mr. Portnuff, a Portland, Ore., resident, lost his ability to speak in the past year because of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He uses a device that speaks the words he types into a computer.
He urged manufacturers, family members and other stakeholders to work together to better meet the needs of device users.
First Published September 20, 2006 12:00 am