This past month, my colleague Sean Sweeney (AKA @speechtechie) and I had the opportunity to join forces and write about AAC, apps and literacy development. Our article will be in the next issue of SIG 12: Perspectives in Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
This gave us a great opportunity to discuss how AAC users can benefit from apps to enhance treatment outcomes. Here are five highlights:
Feature matching is important: When choosing AAC or apps for learning, the tool must meet the needs of the user. For AAC, this includes the size, layout and physical accessibility of features to maximize independent use. For apps, this includes Sean’s FIVES criteria, which examines the context, appropriateness, accessibility and therapeutic considerations for learning. Just like any other tool in your kit, if it isn’t a good match then opportunities for communication or learning are potentially lost.
Make CORE align with the CORE: Using generative language formats, including core and fringe word vocabulary, benefits the student two-fold: building in opportunities for language growth throughout the day, while also meeting those pesky Common Core Standards. For example, a first grade ELA standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.1.1.c, “Use singular and plural nouns with matching verbs in basic sentences.” Using core vocabulary allows the student to meet this standard through basic sentence construction activities. A first grader may enjoy learning this through the “Collins Big Cat” series, a free app that reads stories out loud and then has the option of the student recording his voice (or in this case, synthesized voice). The app also has a more interactive component, which allows the student to build scenes and narrate his own version of the story.
Apps and AAC are powerful together: Students love the interactive nature of apps. “Toca Hair Salon” is a highly interactive hair salon studio allowing students to describe how they are going to cut, color or otherwise coif the animal or person of choice. Another simple app, “Pogg,” is a cute alien that hops, sings and performs other actions, all at your student’s direction during a session. Beyond paper flashcards, the apps give students immediate reinforcement, so then work feels less like work.
Separate communication tools from other tools: If you are going to use apps and AAC at the same time, one practical solution is to use separate tools. Toggling between apps and AAC is cumbersome, and slow session momentum. In addition, having separate systems prevents the user from confusing a communication device with other technology, which is an important distinction. If your tools look the same, change the colors of the cases. If you have students that like to surf and press that home key, enable guided access so that only the AAC app is available.
Model, model, model through apps and AAC: Finally, apps provide the opportunity to model AAC live, and in unpredictable ways. You have more opportunities to explore and learn together. Don’t have curling iron as a fringe vocabulary item when using your “Toca Hair Salon” app (it’s not there, believe me)? Show your student how you can give clues to what you mean and talk it through using what is available on your AAC: “Let’s see, it’s a tool, it’s hot and it makes your hair curly…what is it?”
There’s your abridged version and takeaways…log in to your SIG 12 portal for more info, and to get CEUs….ASHA renewal is right around the corner!
Sweeney, S. & Davis, K. (2014). In press. Reading, writing and AAC: Mobile technology strategies for literacy and language development. SIG 12: Perspectives in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. American Speech Language and Hearing Association.
Kerry J. Davis, EdD, CCC/SLP is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. She holds a special interest providing services to children and adolescents with complex communication profiles, including AAC. Davis is a volunteer SLP and consultant to Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with Autism in South America.