Communication Matters held their annual conference in Leicester earlier this week. For those of you not already in the know, Communication Matters is a UK organisation dedicated to supporting people with communication difficulties by creating a world where all people, regardless of age or ability, can have their ‘voice’ heard through the use of augmentative and alternative communication methods.
Known as AAC for short, Augmentative and Alternative Communication has been made more ‘mainstream’ in recent years courtesy of Professor Stephen Hawking who has lost his speech as a result of Motor Neurone Disease, and comedian Lee Ridley (aka Lost Voice Guy) who has Cerebral Palsy, both of whom use high-tech voice-output communication aids. As a Speech and Language Therapist working in Community Mental Health Teams I seldom have the need or opportunity to work with such high-tech forms of AAC, however, this changed recently.
I received a referral for a lady called Sarah* who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has become mute. There is no physical or neurological reason for Sarah’s lack of ability to vocalise but the fact remains that she has, in the true sense of the phrase, lost her voice. Sarah’s inability to speak has led to a complete dependence on her husband to ‘translate’ for her and communicate on her behalf with family and professionals alike. As a result Sarah had become increasingly socially isolated and anxious, and her mental wellbeing continued to deteriorate.
When I suggested to Sarah that we could explore using AAC as a method to provide her with a voice she was extremely enthusiastic about the prospect. Mainstream technology has made AAC more accessible now than ever before, and this allowed us to use the family’s iPad (other tablet PCs are available!) as a platform to run a communication app that would meet Sarah’s needs.
A month later Sarah came back to see me and I barely recognised the lady sitting in the waiting room. Sarah looked at least 10 years younger. She had coloured her hair, was wearing make-up, and was no longer wearing the dark clothes and sunglasses that had become part of her “uniform”. She was sitting up tall, looking me in the eye and smiling. The psychological and physical transformation was breath-taking, and it had all come from enabling Sarah to overcome her communication difficulties. Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that communication matters.
Sarah* is a pseudonym to protect client confidentiality.