Visit by Prof Erna Alant

Posted on June 02, 2015

On 26 and 27 May 2015, Prof Erna Alant, founder of the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) and currently employed by Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, USA, paid a visit to the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Education. Here she co-presented a seminar entitled ‘The art and science of empathetic communication’ with two colleagues from IU, Beth Lewis Samuelson, Assistant Professor of Literacy, Culture and Language Education, and Lindsey Ogle, a doctoral student in Special Education. The visit was made possible by the Mellon Innovating International Research, Teaching and Collaboration (MIIRT) Innovative Curriculum Development Fellowship at IU.

Dr Samuelson did her PhD at the University of Berkeley in California. Her interests are issues of literacy and inter-cultural narratives. She has extensive experience working in Africa. Ms Ogle is a doctoral student in Special Education at IU and has a master’s degree in Child Development.

Prof Alant discussed her current research interest, empathetic communication, and highlighted theoretical perspectives relevant to empathy and communication. During the visit, videos were made depicting natural communication between users of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and their communication partners. The videos will form part of a library of material that Prof Alant is compiling for discussion and analysis of empathetic communication. Participants in the video interactions included Constance Ntuli, Carla van Nieuwenhuizen and Crystal van Dyk.

According to Prof Alant and other leaders in the field, communication competence is an important outcome of AAC. The focus has been on operational, linguistic, social and strategic competence, as outlined by Janice Light in her seminal 1989 paper. These should be considered within the social context of communication, including developing relationships and friendships, and could be used to reduce social isolation and make interactions meaningful. It is important to listen to and ‘be with’ a person who has a communication vulnerability, and to focus on strategies that build on empathetic communication in order to create meaningful interactions.  


- Author Dr Dada and Mrs White

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