What is Adaptive Communication?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Adaptive communication is a form of communication which is tailored to someone's needs and abilities. It is designed to provide people with the ability to communicate with others even if they cannot engage in spoken communication. Although many people are most familiar and comfortable with spoken communication, there are a number of reasons it is not always an option, including cognitive impairments, congenital conditions, brain injuries, and so forth. Providing people with adaptive communication can empower them and give them a sense of independence.

Sign language is a form of adaptive communication used by the deaf.
Sign language is a form of adaptive communication used by the deaf.

One form of adaptive communication which people may be familiar with is sign language, which is used by people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or unable to speak. Sign language is also used by people with speech impairments, such as stroke victims who have trouble speaking, and may also be part of the system of communication used by people with cognitive impairments. Someone with developmental disabilities, for example, could integrate sign into her or his method of communication.

Other forms of adaptive communication include computer programs which people can interact with to communicate. Chatting, for example, is a form of this type of communication, as are computer programs which can be used to generate electronic voices, or programs which are visual in nature, allowing users to select images which represent concepts to communicate. Likewise, communication books, letter boards, and so forth can be used in this way.

For people who are preliterate or not literate, adaptive communication can be quite valuable. This form of communication is also helpful for people with cognitive differences who may find spoken communication hard to understand, frustrating, or limiting. People may also devise their own communication systems, working with family members, friends, and aides to develop a system which is comfortable for them. Systems can include physical gestures, sign language, drawing, pointing to images, and many other techniques.

Learning adaptive communication can sometimes be challenging for people who are accustomed to spoken communication. This can be tough for people who are developing a communication method to compensate for injuries and other issues which impede speech, and for people who are working as caregivers for people who use adaptive communication. The important thing to remember is that the system can be adjusted to meet the needs of the individual, and that taking the time to create a communication system can open doors for people who have trouble communicating. Historically, people who could not or would not speak were often marginalized by society, but studies on adaptive communication have shown that when provided with a communication system, most people will at least try to communicate.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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