Speech-generating devices (SGDs)

Speech-generating devices (SGDs)

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What are speech-generating devices?

Speech-generating devices are hand-held electronic devices that play pre-recorded words or phrases when the user flips a switch or presses buttons or keys. Some devices 'speak' words as the words are typed on a keyboard.

These devices are also known as communication devices, electronic augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices or systems, and voice output communication aids.

Who are speech-generating devices for?

People who have difficulty communicating in speech can use speech-generating devices. They're most often used by people who have difficulty pronouncing words because of a physical disability like cerebral palsy or acquired brain injury. People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes use them.

What are speech-generating devices used for?

Speech-generating devices let people 'speak' words and sentences electronically. They can also help people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) understand information. Researchers are looking into using speech-generating devices to help children develop speech and tune into the sound patterns in language.

Where do speech-generating devices come from?

Speech-generating devices have been used to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) communicate since the 1990s.

What is the idea behind speech-generating devices?

Speech-generating devices allow people who can't use spoken language to 'speak' electronically. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often good at visual processing, and the idea is that they can combine this ability with a speech-generating device to improve their communication.

What do speech-generating devices involve?

The child chooses the icon on the speech-generating device that corresponds to what he wants to 'say'. So if he wants something to eat - for example, an apple - he can push the button with a picture of the food he wants. The device plays a recorded human voice or computer-generated voice that says, 'I want an apple'. More complex devices allow users to communicate by typing words and sentences.

Cost considerations

Speech-generating devices can cost several hundred or several thousand dollars.

A child should generally see a speech pathologist to choose the most suitable device, to set up the device with individually chosen words, and to learn how to use it. An occupational therapist can also help the child with using the device to communicate.

The cost of seeing a therapist to introduce the use of a speech-generating device might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare, depending on the professional providing the consultation. Some private health care funds might also cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

Do speech-generating devices work?

There have been no large-scale studies, but several small studies suggest that speech-generating devices are potentially effective.

Who practises this method?

Many speech pathologists have experience in training people to use communication aids, including speech-generating devices. Occupational therapists sometimes also have training in this area.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

You need to choose and buy an appropriate speech-generating device for your child. You might need to get some training from a speech pathologist or occupational therapist to use the device with your child. You also need to encourage your child's attempts to communicate using the device throughout the day.

Where can you find a practitioner?

Find practitioners by going to:

  • Speech Pathology Australia - Find a speech pathologist
  • Occupational Therapy Australia - Find a private practice OT.

If you're interested in speech-generating devices, you could speak with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child's options.