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) http://leader.pubs.asha.org/