Bridging the gap in communication

We recently held a conference “Bridging the Gap in Communication, Literacy and Language Development for children with Complex Communication Needs”. This was run by SAALED and Inclusive Solutions and sponsored by The Bridge School, San Francisco. Nedbank sponsored the conference facilities.

It was held at Nedbank Conference Centre and ran for 3 days.

The Bridge School is an educational program dedicated to ensuring that children with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) and Assistive technology (AT) applications. The Bridge School has established an outreach program to share what is developed at the school with parents, professionals and users of AAC/AT across the world. South Africa is at present the recipient of their innovative Outreach program generously funded by The Bridge School. Dr. Vicki R Casella is the Executive Director of The Bridge School.

The primary aim of the conference was to develop capacity for professionals to take the information provided and to share with other professionals and families. This Train the Trainer model has proven to be effective in other countries where The Bridge School has been active. (For more information and practical information see www.bridgeschool.org, and www.inclusivesolutions.co.za.)

The conference provided practical and invaluable training with emphasis on no-tech and low-tech options but giving unique insight into the advantages and uses of high-tech as a tool to enhance communication. What was exceptional about this was the number of people who attended and the enthusiasm of all delegates. We had a similar response in Cape Town. I remember having a similar conference 4 years ago and about 10 people attended and 5 of these were friends of mine.

The need for intervention for children who cannot speak has become crucial and of the 260 delegates in Johannesburg at least 80 were parents. The feeling I got was that parents are desperate for appropriate intervention whether it is therapy or schooling. The interest in this field has grown tremendously but still, we sadly lack schools where children using AAC are taught using appropriate devices and interventions.

With Autism on the increase and more children with disabilities being included in Full Service Schools and special schools this area has taken on a life of its own. We wish to thank all the presenters and sponsors for their wonderful contribution.

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