AUGUSTA — The G.E.A.R. Parent Network, a program of Crisis & Counseling Centers, will host a free virtual training for parents and community partners (educators, providers, and other professionals), “Understanding Augmentative and Alternative Communication” will begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12.

According to a news release from the parent network, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders explains that, “Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have difficulty developing language skills and understanding what others say to them. They also often have difficulty communications nonverbally, such as through hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions.”

Diane Bouffard Photo courtesy of G.E.A.R. Parent Network

Augmentative and alternative communication is a specific type of assistive technology that can benefit nonverbal people including people with autism of all ages by promoting independence, expanding communication, and increasing social interactions. G.E.A.R. staff will help attendees learn what AAC is, what the benefits are and who can assess what might be the best type of system or devices for the child or person.

The training will be facilitated by two G.E.A.R. Parent Network staff, Diane Bouffard and Sarah Judge.

“I want to try and make their life easier than what I went through. I don’t want them to have to jump through the hoops that I went through to get services if I can help families not do that then that’s a win for me,” said Bouffard, a nationally Certified Family Peer Specialist who regionally supports Maine families in Franklin, Kennebec, and Somerset counties on why she shares her story with families like hers, according to the release.

Sarah Judge Photo courtesy of G.E.A.R. Parent Network

Judge, a Family Peer Specialist who is raising a nonverbal child, that utilizes AAC to communicate, shares why this training and the supports G.E.A.R. Parent Network provides to families is so important to her. “I get to be the person I needed back on day one with my 10 year old. I get to help somebody get out from under the big clouds and show them how to do it right for your kids,” said Judge, according to the release.

Parents and community partners interested in registering to join this free training can register online at or by calling 800-264-9224.

For more information, contact Amber Kruk at 207-557-0534 or [email protected].