An introduction to AAC devices and AAC apps.
With developments in technology came an increasing number of ways to provide a means of communication for non-verbal individuals. The technology that falls under the heading of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices/apps is already huge, and is growing every week. The introduction and mainstream usage of tablets alone has brought AAC devices to a whole new market of people. Prior to apps, AAC devices could be incredibly expensive with some running up costs of thousands of pounds. There is no way I could cover all and every AAC device and app that is out there, regardless of how long my series were to be, especially because I do not have the funds or means to try out every device and app out there. However, I do hope to discuss a broad area of AAC devices and I will be posting reviews and information about free AAC apps, and AAC devices that I have had access to through my workplace.
What types of AAC devices are there?
This is not an exhaustive list, but some examples of AAC devices, from very basic ones to more complex ones include:
- Single buttons with pre-recorded or user recorded phrases.
- Yes/No devices/apps with recorded or synthesised voice.
- Static communication devices with voice output with paper overlays.
- Dynamic communication devices customised within the device or app itself.
- Keyboards with or without synthesised voice output.
- Customisable apps using PECS, Colourful Semantics or similar.
- Computer programs and devices of all the above that use eye tracking.
- Computer programs and devices of all the above that are adapted for difficulties with fine and gross motor skills.
Most of these types of aided AAC are available as devices, computer programs, and tablet and phone apps. Tablets with apps are becoming increasingly popular because of how accessible and portable they are, but devices and computer programs are still being used, especially for more specialised technology such as eye-gaze technology.
The cost of these can range from very little (if you already own a phone/tablet/computer and so remove that from the cost, free apps and programs are available) to thousands of pounds. Some are simple to use, such as the single press/single message buttons or Yes/No apps, and some are much more complicated such as the app versions of Colourful Semantics and PECS.
Are there prerequisite skills to using an AAC device or app?
This largely depends on the app or device. As listed above, there are a wide variety of apps and devices that have been specially adapted to suit a range of needs. Eye gaze can be used as a means of selection for individuals who can not use their hands to interact with the device, whereas other devices are adapted for those with difficulties in fine and gross motor. Whilst these devices will hopefully become more affordable and available in the future, at the moment they are expensive.
Adapted devices aside, the range of devices and apps available in the lower price brackets do cater for a variety of motor skills. A single press physical device or a yes/no device may be easier to use for someone who finds it difficult to use individual fingers, whereas tablets may be useful for those who have difficulty applying pressure with their fingers.
In addition, many apps and devices can be customised by the user to allow for: more/less sensitivity, bigger/smaller buttons, louder/quieter speech, different colours, different layouts, or other options.
Some devices and apps can also be adapted for use for people who are unable to or find it difficult to travel to a communication partner, by adding in a button to press to obtain someone’s attention (a “Come Here” button of sorts).
Pros and Cons?
I know I am repeating this a lot but once more, this often depends on the app or device. I will cover this more in-depth in future posts but in general:
- Huge variety
- Greater options for variety of motor skills
- Many are easily customisable and can be updated quicker, or on the move, and with less time and resources needed than methods like PECS.
- There are free apps available which may suit your needs.
- A tablet or phone can be easily transported and, for individuals who are self conscious, are an accepted part of everyday life.
- Some devices can be expensive, and replacing them due to damage or wear and tear is costly compared to PECS or Communication Boards.
- More things can go wrong, specialist repairs may be needed, and they are often reliant on electric or batteries. If it stops working then that means the individual using it cannot communicate.
- It is more difficult to teach the full process of interaction with just devices or apps.
- There isn’t usually a cheap way to try out the apps or devices. There are no trials available for many well known and costly apps such as Proloquo2go, and unless your speech and language therapist or other local professional has access to these apps or other devices it can be very costly to buy them only to find out they aren’t suitable a few months down the line. Whereas it’s not as big of a financial investment if PECS doesn’t work.
There is a lot more that I could say about AAC devices and apps but I think it would be more worthwhile to discuss things in more detail in future posts to prevent this introductory post from becoming excessively long. I have linked to two websites below that have huge product catalogues that cover a wide range of the types of AAC devices and apps that are available. So until next time, I hope this was informative and if you have any comments about your experiences with AAC devices or apps or have any questions then feel free to leave a message.
Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.