Let’s Talk: About AAC & AAC Apps for ipad/iphone

By Dr. Robin Parker

I am so excited to be writing about AAC apps.  AAC apps provide an easy, fun, motivating, and super cool way for people with speech and language impairments to communicate with a lot of people, in different places, and for many reasons. AAC apps facilitates communication to ask for things, say “no” & say “*#$@ no”, say “hello”, comment, negotiate, share information, just vent, ask questions, to tell about the past, present, or future, and have conversations.  Better communication facilitates more inclusive participation at home, school, and in the community.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a set of tools and strategies that help people with communication impairments to express themselves and understand language more fully. There are many reasons people have trouble communicating. Some people have motor impairments and the difficulty to communicate is primarily one of motor access to words, sentences, and conversation. Others have specific communication and language learning problems and AAC and  visual language helps with finding words, understanding, and expression.

AAC can be thought of as a system and not just as an AAC device/app.  Since AAC involves a set of tools and strategies, there should be (when at all possible) an AAC assessment to determine which tools and strategies will most help with the ultimate goal of AAC: functional communication, self advocacy, and independence.   An AAC assessment will help you to develop an AAC system that is based upon communication needs, motor needs, learning style, and other features that will aid in comprehensive speech & language skills.  To create an optimal communication learning environment,  a variety of tools are usually most helpful. AAC apps are a great addition to the AAC Toolbox.

AAC apps typically fall under an AAC category known as voice output communication displays/devices.  SInce the development and subsequent explosion of AAC apps there has been a whole new ‘conversation’ about AAC.  In a positive reversal of fortune, the question is not ‘should I use AAC’ but rather ‘Which AAC option is best? This fundamental shift in thinking is changing the AAC landscape and getting people closer to a more evidence based way of facilitating speech and language skills.  So there is not any misconception, an AAC and visual language way of thinking promotes spoken speech (when possible) and always increases expressive and receptive language skill.

It seems like a new AAC app or many new apps are released daily.  Here are some things to consider as you try to make sense of the many AAC option.   There is no exact right or wrong answer but a series of principles, strategies, and considerations that will help guide as you select AAC apps for your child, student, classroom, and/or friend.  These guiding principles will help you understand the process of app decision making if you are In an ideal situation and are working with a speech-language pathologist and educational team or if you are on your own

5 PrAACtical AAC Considerations

“Having a communication device doesn’t make you an effective communicator, any more than having a piano makes you a musician (Beukelman, 1991)”.

  • Teach communication and language while using the AAC App.  Provide opportunities for initiation of communication and use AAC teaching strategies.
  • Remember that everyone can use AAC apps. There are no pre-requisite skills to using an AAC display.  If you teach communication, ALL students can learn to be better communicators.
  • Teach all aspects of communication. Language is for requesting, protesting, greeting, commenting, sharing, venting, negotiating, and telling.
  • Teach All aspects of language. Language is talking, listening, reading, and writing.
  • Create no-technology back-ups of the communication displays  in your AAC app.  Create a communication book with print outs/pages of the communication displays in your AAC app.  Then, if you have a back-up and the technology does not work for some reason (no charge or general tech failure), the AAC app user can still communicate.

For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier.

For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible”.

( International Business Machines (IBM) 1991 training manual)

5 Things We Love About ALL AAC apps:

             COMMUNICATION in their information section

  • We love that more people than ever who need AAC are getting the basic human right to learn to communicate and have the tools to communicate!

Strategies Are The Secret To Learning”   - Tony Robbins

Tips for Getting Started with AAC Apps

AAC App Considerations
Here are some considerations.
Language Features

  • Core word approach or functional language approach or visual scene approach
  • Pre-made communication displays or create your own
  • Sentence building options
  • Options for morphological learning
  • Allows for full communication including requests, saying no, greetings,ventings, and sharing of information

Technical Features

  • Customization level
  • Digitized (recorded) vs Synthesized Speech (computer generated)
  • Digital image library and/or custom image library
  • Pre-made communication displays or create your own
  • Good support from developer website

25 Apps Worth Looking At

App Name Link w/Description Features
Touchchat -Comprehensive Communication
-Core Word Approach to Language
Pre-programmed pages
Full customization if needed
Proloquo2Go -Comprehensive Communication
-Functional Language Approach
Pre-programmed pages
Full customization if needed
Talk Tablet HD Comprehensive Communication
Core and Functional Language Approach
Pre-programmed pages
Full customization if needed
GoTalkNow Functional Language Approach
Full Image Library
Create your own page sets
SonoFlex Core & Functional Language Approach
Full Image Library
Pre-programmed pages
Full customization if needed
Tap Speak Choice -Comprehensive Communication
-Functional Language Approach
-Pre-programmed pages
-Full customization if needed
TapSpeak Button - Single message communication device/switch
-Functional Language Approach
See 101 Things to do with a Single Message by Spectronics Inclusive Learning Technologies
TapSpeak Sequence Standard Sequenced single message communication device/switch
Functional Language Approach
Limited repetitive sequenced messages (can be used for shared reading, scripted greetings, joint action routines.
TapSpeak Sequence Plus Same as Tap Sequence Standard except includes 4500+ Picture Communication Symbol Set
Speak for Yourself -Comprehensive Communication
-Core Word Approach
-Motor word approach to expand with learner
Tap To Talk Functional Language Approach
Scene Speak Visual scene approach to communication
AAC Scroll and Speak Functional Language Approach
Pictures Can Talk Functional Language Approach
Full Customization
Create Your Own Displays
Pictures Assistive Functional Language Approach
Full Customization
Create Your Own Displays
So Much To Say Functional Language Approach
Full Customization
My First AAC Functional Language Approach
TalkBoard Functional Language Approach
Sentence Building Option
Expressive! Functional Language Approach
Sentence Building Options
Full Image Library
Pre-Made displays
Speech Button Functional Language Approach
Beginning or supplemental AAC app
Sounding Board Functional Language Approach
Up to 9 message locations
Full customization
Quick Talk Functional Language Approach
Sentence Building capabilities
Full Image Library
Tapikeo Functional Language Approach
Talking Picture Stories
Click n Talk Functional Language approach
Talking Picture Cards
Talking Cards Functional Language Approach
Beginning Communicator
Single picture communicationF


**Also, for app comparisons, try out AAC Tech Connect’s App Assistant (free preview available)

About Author

Dr. Robin Parker is a Program Professor and Clinical Supervisor in the Graduate Programs in Speech, Language, and Communication at Nova Southeastern University.  She also is the Senior Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) at NSU.

Dr. Parker works with children and adults who have significant communication difficulties due to autism spectrum disorders.  She specializes in using augmentative and alternative communication strategies and technology to facilitate communication and language skills.  She believes ALL children CAN learn communication, language, and literacy skills if they are given appropriate visual supports, evidence based teaching strategies, and treated with a positive interaction style and high expectations.

Dr. Parker blogs with a colleague at PrAACtical AAC- Supports for Language Learning.

My blogging colleague, Dr. Carole Zangari, and I have a app rubric that will help guide the app decision making process.  Once we receive feedback with your answers we will post apps for specific answer patterns.

Get started with AAC apps and have a ‘Appy’ day!


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