Using a Mobile Device as an Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) Device

A mobile device is a great option as an augmentative, alternative communication (AAC) device. Mobile devices are easily transportable, cool or socially acceptable, functional, operate by touch or switch, and are relatively cost-friendly. Thus making them a great option to consider.
First you will want to choose a device. Look at the person first and the device second. Will the person be able to easily access the device? After all, it is going to be their voice and they will need to have access to it 24 hours a day. Size and weight are also factors. The iPod touch is a great option for those with small fingers and dexterity. If not, then consider the iPad or Android device in a carrying case. Can the person carry a device? If so, get the device protected with a case/screen protector, and allow the person to play and experiment with the device. A speech pathologist or other AT professional with experience using iPads should be consulted when making decisions about a mobile device and to assist with programming the device or app. If possible, we recommend trying out a device before buying. It is ideal to trial the device with the assistance of a Speech Therapist or in an Assistive Technology Lab.
There are so many apps out there, how do I choose the right one? You will first want to look at the users specific needs and their abilities. Does the person recognize cause and effect? Can they answer yes and no questions? Or, maybe they are already proficient with a different AAC device and will easily adapt to a more advanced AAC app. Answering these questions will help you to decide the level of App you may need. Whether it be basic or more sophisticated. Here is a list of AAC apps to take into consideration.
I found a communication app now where do I begin? When you begin to use an AAC App with a person it is important that you start with the desires and wants of the person first. If you begin with what you want them to say it is possible that the person will become disinterested and frustrated. For example, a child may want to choose a favorite food, favorite activity, or a favorite toy. And an adult may want to talk about a topic that they are interested in like the weather, self, or news. Be patient, start slowly with real relevant photos, then move on to symbols and so on. With some people it is important to begin with only 2 choices. Then once that is mastered, move up to 4, 6, and so on. It is best practice to make sure a person has the ability to make a choice and understands cause and effect prior to initiating the use of a complex communication system. Because of this, the person should be exposed to a small number of highly motivating icons, pictures or objects at first to make sure the child understands the task. One SLP recommended starting with a choice between 2 apps or 2 toys or 2 snacks. The choice of 2 may need to continue for a year or for one trial. It is very dependent on the person.
Lastly you will want to make sure that there is a support system for the person using the AAC device. It is important that EVERYONE be on board and support the user. Have the persons therapists and teachers work with them on using their device. At home teach their siblings about the device so that they can understand and support the user.
For more information about getting started with AAC, check out this article from ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

11 thoughts on “Using a Mobile Device as an Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) Device

  1. There are so many other things that need to be considered when choosing an aac system. I urge parents and teachers to try to find a SLP experienced in aac before making a decision. So many of the aac apps are little more than just another \”choice board\” and will not teach the child to use language for a variety of communication purposes.

  2. Hi. it says click here for a list of AAC apps… but there was no place to click. I just bought an ipad for my 4 year old with Down Syndrome…. so I\’m kinda like now what>>>>> any help is appreciated!!!!

  3. Thanks for a great post. Here is a resource that might be helpful to some of your readers: 49 Free or Lite Versions of AAC Apps We update this periodically and are working on one for Android devices, too. We also did a post on how to approach the decision-making process: 5 Things To Do Before You Choose an AAC App: I will share your post with our readers as well. Thanks for the fine work you do!

  4. Great post! As a Speech-Language Pathologist in private practice, I have had so many inquiries about using an iPad with typical kiddos that we created Speech YappTM – to introduce parents to the speech/language apps available AND provide guidance on how to use them to boost language skills. There are so many great options out there.
    Thanks for getting the word out!

  5. I was interested to read that the first thing you recommend is to choose a device. I am a speech language pathologist doing training towards an AT Assessment Certification. We were taught that the device is chosen only after an assessment and a feature match. So I guess I would disagree. The first thing I would do is assess the need and decide as a team on which features the device needs (e.g. portability, durability, etc.) in order to best meet all of the person\’s needs. So, in our training the last thing you do is choose a device. So many people just buy an iPad and then say, \”now what?\” We recommend instead that the persons\’ needs be carefully considered first.
    Thanks for your helpful website!

    1. Deborah,

      Thanks for your comment and know that we couldn\’t agree more! In fact when people contact us to help them select a device we always suggest getting an assessment first. So we definitely hear you on the importance of this! If you read on through the first paragraph a statement is made about that.


    2. I very much agree, it\’s not about the device, it\’s about what the device can/will do for me. I need it to be my voice, so that I can be heard and understood. The rest is largely irrelevant.

  6. I do agree with Susan. The device and applications are only a beginning and proper implementation is crucial. Otherwise you have a very expensive device when you just could have used two pictures or even better two objects! So often we see \”point to\” or \”show me\” as a beginning skill, and this will not yield an AAC communication that is meaningful. If every communication is consequential, then the child will learn to use the device and its use will grow. AAC = power and control of one\’s environment. A device cannot replace a speech pathologist. He or she does not and should not be present for all use of AAC. But the specialist can help you see how everyday implementation can yield a powerful result. They can empower you to make AAC a part of your life.

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