Updated: Jun 6
Identifying which AAC app or software to trial or recommend can be overwhelming. With so many options available, how do we determine what best fits the communication needs of each unique AAC communicator? This week’s blog will discuss strategies on how to compare and contrast the features available in different AAC systems throughout the evaluation and trial process.
During an AAC evaluation, it is common to compare and contrast different AAC apps and language software options. It's important to know what to look for from a clinician's perspective.
Using a dynamic assessment approach, look at how quickly the communicator learns one system versus another.
Remember, the AAC app or software that is being recommended needs to meet the user's current AND future communication needs.
Consider the unique offerings from the AAC app that differentiates it from others. What makes this specific AAC app or software a good "fit" for the communicator?
Does the communicator demonstrate the ability to use the AAC system for functional communication and do they demonstrate an understanding of basic operational requirements?
How has the AAC user benefited from the use of the AAC system across environments?
One reason to compare/contrast the available AAC apps and software options is to determine which system to trial for an AAC communicator. It is important to understand what the purpose of a trial is. When we think about AAC trials, there are many misconceptions regarding the goal of the trial.
Is the purpose for a user to master an AAC system? No!
The purpose is to determine if the AAC system can meet the user’s needs and how it compares to other AAC options.
Through AAC evaluation and trials, the aim is to identify which AAC system is the best fit for the communicator – not for the communicator to become 100% efficient in that communication system in just a few weeks.
No one has learned to walk or talk in only 30 days. We can't expect that from AAC communicators! Implementation is key to the effectiveness of the recommended AAC system.
Carole Zangari (2016) provided some specific recommendations for AAC trials in a great blog post that can be found here: AAC Apps and Devices: Thoughts on Conducting AAC Trials : PrAACtical AAC.
Clarify the purpose of the trial
Customize the AAC system for the start of the trial
Provide education, training, and teaching as PART of the trial
Data collection is vital to an AAC trial
Include the communicator and the family as part of the trial
Consider environmental factors that can impact the success of a trial
Clarify the purpose of the trial – is this based on an insurance requirement or are there specific features that are being compared? All involved as part of the evaluation team need to be on the same page – what is the primary purpose of the trial?
Customize the AAC system for the start of the trial – a trial can’t be effective without the AAC system being personalized to the communicator! Consider features such as adding specific words/messages that are motivating to the communicator and personalizing their voice.
Provide education, training, and teaching as PART of the trial – it’s unfair to expect that simply putting an AAC device in front of someone will be enough for them to know how to use it for effective communication! Training and teaching the user AND those around them is crucial for a successful trial. Listen to concerns from the communicator and their family and work collaboratively to develop solutions to avoid device abandonment.
Data collection is vital to an AAC trial – data is key! This provides objective information as to how the communicator is able to use the AAC system. Collect data related to their use of the device for various communicative functions, across environments, and with different communication partner. Again, it’s not about mastering the AAC app, it’s about how the user demonstrates progress.
Include the communicator and the family as part of the trial – the technologies involved in AAC and AT (assistive technology) aren’t familiar to many communicators, families, and caregivers. Including all those involved in the AAC user’s life as part of the trial process is another key component!
Consider environmental factors that can impact the success of a trial – AAC isn’t just for home or just for school. Communication happens EVERYWHERE! Identify potential environmental factors that may be barriers to a communicator’s success and work together as a team to address these barriers. Consider environmental controls that are available through different AAC systems that can remove environmental barriers encountered by the communicator.
During the AAC evaluation process, it is important to consider which software and app specific features are available and how they may benefit an AAC communicator. Here are a just a few!
Voice features - does the app offer different types of voices (synthesized or digited), does it have the ability to integrate with message/voice banking, and what personalization options (rate, pitch, age, gender) are available?
Access features - does the app allow for alternate access methods AND what settings are offered for the alternate access methods?
Editing features - when looking at different AAC apps and software options it's important to look at the specific editing and programming is available. For example, what actions are available to program in the message window (e.g., clear content, read content) and what visual supports are available (e.g., color, font, borders, background).
Operational features - consider the AAC apps ability related to ease of editing, back-up availability, remote editing options, as well as the computer interface.
A great assessment tool available for clinicians for the purpose of comparing/contrasting AAC apps and language software is The Rubric for Evaluating the Language of Apps for AAC (RELAAACS, pronounced “relax”). This was created to assist clinicians when identifying the AAC app that best fits the needs and abilities of the communicator.
It's available here: Rubric for Evaluating the Language of Apps for AAC (RELAAACS)
This tool walks through specific communication functions to see how the AAC app is meeting the needs of the communicator in different language areas. Specifically, it looks at:
Functional communication learning - including requesting, rejection, social interaction, commenting
Linguistic/language learning - including core vocabulary, syntax and sentence-building, morphology, narratives, and semantics
What's the takeaway? AAC doesn’t happen overnight! Use these strategies to assist in identifying which AAC app or software to include in an an AAC evaluation and to identify which AAC system best fits the communication needs of each unique AAC communicator.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (Practice Portal). www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Augmentative-and-Alternative-Communication/
Beukelman, D. R., & Light, J. C. (2020). Augmentative & alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (5th ed.). Brookes.
Zangari, C., & Parker, R. (2012). Rubric for evaluating the language of apps for AAC (RELAAACs). https://praacticalaac.org/praactical/praactical-resources-comparing-aac-apps/
Zangari, C. (2016, December 22). AAC Apps and Devices: Thoughts on Conducting AAC Trials. Praactical AAC. https://praacticalaac.org/praactical/aac-apps-and-devices-thoughts-on-conducting-aac-trials/#:~:text=The%20purpose%20of%20the%20AAC,it%20compare%20to%20other%20options%3F
Katie Threlkeld, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed, ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist and the Educational Program Developer at Forbes AAC. She has over eight years of experience in AT and AAC assessment and treatment with both the pediatric and adult populations. Katie has presented at the state and national level on AAC topics and she has University teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level.