Communication Series – The BIGmack

Beginning to use the BIGmack


The BIGmack (or similar) doesn’t look like a very impressive device from the outset. When you stand it next to a Speech Generating Device (SGD) or app that has multiple buttons and allows the user to express themselves in multiple ways, or even if you put it next to a PECS book it doesn’t seem like a very powerful tool for communication. Except, it can be, and once you start thinking about how you can include a BIGmack, ideas start coming to you quickly.

Just to highlight something straight off the bat, I am using the name BIGmack just because it is a well-known version of this sort of AAC. That is, a single message button that can have the prerecorded message activated through pressing the button. However, the BIGmack is still a fairly expensive piece of technology – coming in at around £90. Other, cheaper alternatives can be found through search terms like “recordable answer buzzer” or “message recording button” or “single message communication aid”, or just by looking through different websites and catalogues. They are not as easy to find as the BIGmack and they are often more limited (such as shorter recording time – BIGmack has up to 2 minutes; and generally cannot be used to activate external devices or switches) but many can be used in some similar ways to the BIGmack.

Setting up the BIGmack or single message communication aid (SMCA) is pretty simple – usually all it takes is to open up the battery compartment and put in the appropriate batteries. Then you have to decide how you’re going to use it before you do anything else. In this post I will start with what I think are the uses of SMCA that people can think of relatively quickly, and in future posts I will discuss other ways it can be used.

So the SMCA can be used to give the student a voice when greeting people around them, it can be used to request more of something, or it can be used to indicate the student wishes to finish whatever it is they are doing. Three very simple and straightforward uses of the SMCA. If you have managed to secure either multiple SMCA or, like with the BIGmack, the SMCA comes with detachable and different coloured buttons to secure onto the device, you may decide to do all three.

You may decide that your student will respond well to having three different colours represent the three different messages, or you may want to velcro or otherwise stick pictures to the top of the SMCA to help the student identify which button they want. Even if you only plan to use a single button at a time, I would advise using symbols or photos on the top of the button to help with future identification. I have include a PDF at the bottom with “Hello”, “more”, and “finished” images for use.

So you record the message and stick on the picture – then you have to teach the use. The easiest and most effective way of doing this will be through a combination of fading prompting, explanations, and modelling. So, if you are starting out by teaching the use of the button to say “Hello”, hold the button yourself, have another person greet you, and respond using the button. Then you could hand the button to your student and prompt them to do the same.

When using the button to teach requesting “more” you could involve the student’s peers or siblings, give them a button of the same colour and with the same logo (or share the button), and hand out one of something they will want more of. The peer or sibling can press the button, requesting “more”, and then the student can be prompted to do the same. This obviously doesn’t just apply for consumable items, but for activities as well.

For teaching “finished” you might explain to the student when they are starting to get frustrated or fed-up of an activity that they look fed up, and when they are fed up they can tell you they are “finished” by pressing their BIGmack/SMCA and then prompting them to do so. Of course you will then honour what they have told you by letting them leave the activity or event that they are “finished” with.

As with teaching any communication skill, this might take time, but a combination of modelling (you might include video modelling as well), explanations, and prompting will usually encourage a lot of development for many children.

Until next time.

(Links are not intended as an endorsement or recommendation – provided simply as a means of example or information)

“Hello”, “More”, and “Finished” labels/visuals.pdf

The BIGmack

Example of a simpler alternative to the BIGmack

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.

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