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How do you choose an AAC device?
If your child has few words, or has difficulty expressing him or herself with words, then it might be time to consider an adaptive and augmentative communication device, often abbreviated as “AAC.” Less than twenty years ago, devices in this category were large, heavy, and prohibitively expensive.
While many parents cheered (or mourned) the debut of iPads and similar tablets as a form of portable entertainment for their children, the possibilities they introduced for use as AAC devices were unmatched. Now, a high-end holiday gift combined with a (virtual) trip to the app store allows families to have an AAC device at their fingertips. But before you jump in, here a few things to note to help you choose an AAC device:
1. The apps are all expensive
Speech and communication apps are not in the $1.99 price range, like so many options on the app store. In fact, $199 would be considered a bargain price for many of them. So do some research before you buy. In general, apps are not returnable, so proceed with caution to avoid having hundreds of dollars of unused apps on your account.
2. Engage a pro
While you can certainly research options on your own – I highly recommend checking out YouTube to see the different programs in action – you should also involve a specialist, ideally someone who already knows your child. An increasing number of speech and language pathologists have specializations involving AAC – so seek one out, if possible.
Do be aware that there is no certification body for AAC, so anyone can make a profile for themselves and call themselves an “AAC specialist.” I recommend choosing someone who is a licensed speech language pathologist first, with a professional interest in AAC.
3. Try several
Whether receiving services in private practice, or via a school or county program, it is important to try before you buy. The professional you are working with should be able to lay out pros and cons of a few options before narrowing it down to a few to try. Ideally, your child would try a few sessions on a borrowed app/device before a purchase is made.
4. Consider the user’s strengths
While the overall concept of AAC apps is similar – users touch icons to communicate, the specifics vary more than you think. Some use symbol-stick figures, others use the same icons as most PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) icons do. Some, like Touchchat, allow families and therapists to “build” their own pages and layouts (great for kids who are able to scan independently to choose their next word), others, like LAMP Words for Life, are based on predetermined pathways (super-helpful for kinesthetic learners who benefit from motor planning patterns).
5. Commit to learning the “second language”
When we first downloaded Proloquo2Go, we thought Mr. Diggy was going to be communicating overnight. The best way to understand how off base this thought was is to consider the time you spent to learn a second (or third or fourth) language. Many of us spend YEARS studying languages in school to emerge with a competency that is far from fluent. And that is with regular, daily exposure to the language. Learning AAC is no different.
To be effective, everyone the individual sees on a regular basis should be trained on the device, and there should be hours upon hours of modeling before communication with fidelity can be expected (Again, consider the years that infants and toddlers listen to spoken language before building their own spoken vocabulary). But if the team buys in, progress is possible.
6. Tomorrow is another day
Not every day will be one of progress, but there will be other days. Being home with Mr. Diggy round the clock for months in 2020 resulted in us having an even better understanding of his sensory regulation needs, which affect his ability to attend to his AAC device. It also proved to be an AAC-language boot camp for the entire family, making us better supporters in his use of the device.
(Now all we need is a floating, waterproof iPad cover to make communication more realistic for a kid who all but lives in the water!)