Children and young adults with Angelman syndrome rely on a broad set of tools for communication, including speech, facial expressions, gestures, and symbols, a study suggests.
The findings support the notion that teaching can help them improve what scientists call expressive communication skills, which go far beyond speech.
Expressive communication in Angelman syndrome covers speech and a category called augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC.
“AAC modes are classified as unaided or aided,” the researchers wrote. They include facial expressions, gestures, physical manipulation, manual signing (unaided mode) or using photographs, picture symbols, or written words (aided mode).
Researchers investigated which patterns of communication children and young adults with Angelman syndrome use the most.
Using data collected through the Communication Matrix website — an online platform that evaluates expressive communication — the team analyzed data on 300 American children and young adults with Angelman syndrome. The patients ranged up to 21 years of age.
The Communication Matrix is organized into four major reasons to communicate — refuse, obtain, social interaction, and information exchange — and six stages of communication development — preintentional communication (Levels 1 and 2), intentional presymbolic communication (Levels 3 and 4), and symbolic communication (Levels 5–7).
While 90 percent of the Angelman syndrome patients were 2 years of age and older, 86 percent scored below the 50th percentile on the matrix. This confirmed earlier studies showing that these patients have a significant delay in developing expressive communication skills.
The findings also showed that few Angelman patients spoke, with nonverbal gestures dominating communication. Many children used picture symbols, object symbols, and manual signs.
Importantly, the primary reason that patients communicated was to make a request.
“Individuals with Angelman syndrome communicate to refuse unwanted items, request wanted items, and engage in diffuse social interactions such as attracting attention and showing affection ,” the researchers wrote.
“Increased use of alternative symbolic systems with age suggests that educational programs indeed have a positive effect on development of communication in this sample,” they concluded.