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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Genuine Communication. Is There an App for That?

As I mentioned briefly last week, there are many AAC apps available in the iTunes store.  I have given up counting them.  I gave up somewhere before 200.   And there are a few that have even disappeared.
However, for developing real communication skills, for developing genuine ability to say what they want, when they want, to whom they want, your AAC user needs a system that offers sufficient vocabulary to meet all of his/her communication needs, as well as to meet the needs of the communication partners who are using the system for Aided Language Stimulation across a wide variety of settings and situations.  You need a robust vocabulary.

Now, this is where I often meet objection.  “He only needs to be able to tell me what he wants,”  “He doesn’t know all those words,”  “That’s too much for him,”  “He doesn’t need all that,” “Oh, we know what he wants usually, he just needs to tell us when we’re wrong.”  “He can’t use all that.”  “He just needs the names of the things he wants to ask for.”

Well, he needs to tell you more than what he wants.  What about when he doesn’t feel well, when something is wrong, when something particularly good/bad has happened, when he’s upset, when he wants to tell you he likes/doesn’t like something,…… shall I go on?  
He’ll know those words when you teach them to him.  It can be simplified to start and gradually get more complex as you teach him the words.  
He needs all that if he is going to use all of the functions of communication.  You can’t possibly always know what he wants, and what do you do when you’re wrong?  He can use all that.  He needs to do more than just request. 
You need to presume competence.  You need to think beyond grape juice vs orange juice.  You need to think beyond puzzle vs movie.  You need to believe that he can communicate a LOT; given the tools and the strategies to use them.

I am not going to name names here.  I am not going to tell you that apps a, b, and c are good apps, but that x, y, and z apps are bad.
What I am going to tell you is that a “good” AAC app is

  1. based on core vocabulary; it emphasizes the use of and easy access to high frequency words
  2. offers sufficient vocabulary range that can grow with the child and work for him now and into the foreseeable future, so that you are not going to have to change apps some day (and he will have to learn all over again where the words are)
  3. offers sufficient vocabulary to meet all communication needs and functions; including word-based and some phrase-based options
  4. offers sufficient vocabulary so that the communication partners can use Aided Language Stimulation or Aided Input for all the things they are saying to the student
  5. has a ‘hidden’ button feature that allows you to temporarily hide some vocabulary he is not yet using, but will need 
  6. can change the size of the layout/array
  7. can change color coding if needed; especially for access
  8. offers morphology and syntax features; such as creating plurals, possessives, and verb tenses
  9. offers a range of page sets to meet a variety of needs and skills, and an easy way to move from one page set to the next without having to start over with customizing vocabulary
  10. offers choices of voices
  11. is easy to use not just when the student is at the 1-2 word stage, but is just as easy to use to construct complete sentences 
  12. the company that developed it offers customer support
  13. it offers a keyboard with text-to-speech so that the student can learn literacy skills and talk about them
  14. allows photos to be imported (because really, who in your family looks like those stick figures?)
  15. allows for switch scanning access if this is a feature your user needs
  16. allows for backups to be made so that customizations aren’t lost in case of a technology failure, or so that support staff can make customizations and easily save and send them to the user
If I've left something off of the list, I trust someone out there will tell me.  I'm still fighting with my health post-surgery, so just not the sharpest tack in the box right now.

Next week, I'm planning to talk about where to begin.  In the meantime, Keep on Talking!

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