Cerebral Palsy: Communication Challenges and Communication Aids


A recent study concluded that children with Cerebral Palsy (CP) visit the hospital twice as often as children without the disease which can lead to draining confidence levels if not adequately supported.  Communication can also be a pressure point that can be difficult for those diagnosed with CP to get past unless they have communication aids to fall back on for support.  These aids are most commonly found in Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs) embedded within augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.  Let’s look closer at these communication challenges and see how these specific communication aids can benefit the life of an individual with CP.

Cerebral Palsy (CP) Communication Challenges

Roughly 1 in 4 people with Cerebral Palsy (CP) are nonverbal and sometimes they may not even be able to write, type, point, or sign.  The reason for these complications stems from the effect that their disease has on their ability to finely coordinate their facial muscles and tongue.  For individuals with CP who are vocal, they sometimes still lack the respiratory support necessary to carry on a conversation that can be easily understood.  Nonverbal CP individuals must utilize a combination of approaches that is unique to their symptoms to counteract their communication difficulties.  This means utilizing therapists and supplementing that support with varying technical communication aids that will present the individual with an increased quality of life.


Communication Aids

Effective communication for CP patients has become increasingly easier to implement in their day-to-day due to technological innovations such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems.  Recent studies have shown that the integration of these AAC devices with CP patients have led to an increase in their social interaction, school performance, and feelings of self-worth.  Those individuals with CP that are nonverbal can utilize AAC systems that integrate head sticks and switches, pointers, and joy sticks, thereby allowing the patient the ability to seamlessly generate speech on command.  When an individual’s facial muscles are impaired and they are unable to ambulate, an AAC system can utilize eye-tracking technology that uses corneal activity to allow the individual to articulate words and phrases on a screen.


Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs)

Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs) are another option for CP patients that runs off a high-tech AAC system, providing individuals with recorded words or symbols.  Some VOCAs utilized a speech synthesizer to produce artificial speech for the user based on their device selection.  These devices can either be mounted on a wheelchair or used in a mobile fashion.  This gives the user more flexibility and allows them to use a variety of combinations of words, phrases, or sentences.  The only inflexibility is that some of these devices must be pre-programmed, therefore the family and hospital support group that work with the individual need to have the foresight as to which words, phrases, and sentences are necessary now and several years down the line.


Closing Thoughts

Many individuals with CP have noted having a variety of communication roadblocks, but thankfully, technological innovations have allowed them to advance and improve their quality of life.  AAC systems and those that integrate VOCA solutions are a good foundation for the CP patient to improve their communication, even if they are nonverbal.  As more research is published and more effort is put into developing AAC technology, more individuals with CP will stand to benefit from the improvement in their communication.

If you have access to an iPhone or Apple Tablet, you and your child can begin learning social communication behaviors instantly via the Speakprose app! Doesn’t that sound exciting?