By Natsumi Asanuma, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist, Susan Mast ALS Foundation
Many people with ALS (pALS) report variability in how clear their speech sounds, depending on factors such as energy level, time of day, and speaking situation. For those experiencing speech difficulties, thinking strategically about speech by working with your communication partner, setting up the optimal environment for communication, and conserving energy, can prevent communication breakdowns and reduce fatigue. These are often new habits that can be built over time and with a little extra attention.
Coach Your Communication Partner
Often, communication partners feel unsure of how to help prevent and resolve communication breakdowns. Have conversations that help them to understand your speech and communication needs, direct them to resources that explain communication needs related to ALS, or involve them when working with a speech language pathologist. The Boston Children’s Hospital ALS Augmentative Communication Program has a great resource for communication partners here. The following are some strategies for communication partners that may spark a discussion on your personal communication preferences:
It takes extra effort and repetition to compete with a noisy or distracting environment. Be mindful of the environment and move important or longer conversations to an optimal location whenever possible. Using a personal voice amplifier may be particularly helpful in some challenging environments and consistent use of an amplifier regardless of environment may still help to reduce fatigue throughout the day.
Check in with yourself periodically, particularly when you notice more communication breakdowns to see if you can optimize your speech or if you need to take a break. Consider using augmentative communication aids in conjunction with speech, such as a personal voice amplifier or letter board.
Mindful approaches to communication such as enlisting your communication partners’ help, setting up the environment, and modifying your speech can help improve comprehension when experiencing speech impairment related to ALS. In addition to trying these strategies, it is important to talk to your speech language pathologist, doctor, and clinic team about any speech changes or concerns to ensure that you get the appropriate individualized support and evaluations completed at the right time.