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Meritus speech pathologists have tools to help patients communicate

April 29, 2024 - Meritus Story

The speech-language pathologists who support the needs of patients at Meritus Physical Therapy are passionate about ensuring those in their care have the tools and abilities they need to communicate with those around them. 

“Being able to communicate is not something to be taken for granted – and everyone deserves to have their voice heard. Something to remember, is that communication is not a privilege, it is a basic human right,” says Bethany Dunahugh, speech-language pathologist at Meritus Physical Therapy. 

In an effort to support that basic right, two years ago, Meritus Physical Therapy started a program to help non-verbal patients obtain and learn how to use communication devices. These devices, called speech generating devices, or SGDs, are a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). SGDs allow patients to communicate wants, needs and preferences by making selections via direct touch or other methods such as use of a switch or eye tracking. Used by patients with autism and a variety of other neurological conditions, AAC is a great tool for building and enhancing an individual’s ability to communicate.

These devices can be customized with many vocabulary options, different languages and dialects. There are many options for access – direct selection with hands or feet, eye tracking, head tracking and more. Dunahugh recommends caregivers interested in learning more about the program should schedule an appointment with the patient’s physician to discuss enhancing the patient’s ability to communicate and request a referral to Meritus Physical Therapy. “The process in general involves a good bit of teamwork to get everything together. Having the physician on board helps makes things go a lot smoother!” Dunahugh states.
Since beginning the program, 36 patients have received speech generating devices, and additional patients are awaiting insurance approval. However, these devices are just one of many tools to assist those individuals who are non-verbal, including those on the autism and neurodiversity spectrum,
Additional services and support options offered by Meritus Physical Therapy’s pediatrics team include:

  • Direct services and consultative services (based on individualized needs)
  • Social skills training
  • Implementation of social narratives and visual supports
  • Sensory integration strategies
  • Functional “activities of daily living” skill development and training
  • Family-focused training and parent coaching

To learn more about AACs or other services related to the treatment of autism or neurodiversity disorders, contact the Meritus Physical Therapy pediatrics team at 301-790-8613. 

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