Sunday, October 25, 2015

5 Reasons to use the high-quality vocabulary already included in your AAC system:

The post below applies only to high quality augmentative and alternative (AAC) systems with robust vocabularies and a well researched effort behind how the system works. For example (but not limited to): Proloquo2Go 3 or even better 4 with Crescendo Vocabularies using at least 15 buttons per page, TouchChat with Word Power 42+ or Pixons, Compass with Word Power, Gateway or PODD, Avaz, LAMP Words for Life and other Unity based lanugage systems, and PODD books created and used according to PODD training. In general, a robust vocabulary means at least 100 words organized in an understandable, predictable manner (categorically, pragmtically, or semantically) using a consistent and meaningful symbol system. If you are wondering if your system qualifies as a well researched AAC System with a robust vocabulary please check out Jane Farrell's AAC app evaluations (3 stars or bust!) or the Does Your AAC App Measure Up handout and YouTube Video. If you aren't using a robust lanugge system with your students you should be!

Proloquo2Go 4 Core Words

1) The work is done for you!
Teaching a child to communicate via augmentative and alternative communication (or to repair unintelligible speech with AAC) is a labor intensive task. Designing and programming a robust and well-researched vocabulary system is also a labor intensive task, but, with the right system, it is a task that has been done for you! Hurray!  You will likely need to do some basic customizing like adding the users personal information and user specific frequently used words and phrases. However, the rest of the work has been done for you!  Now you can focus on sharpening your language teaching skills, modeling, developing descriptive classroom labels, making low tech versions of high tech displays, training peers, parents and teachers and so much more. You have enough to do without recreating the wheel.

2) It isn't too much!
I know looking at any robust system is overwhelming at first.  So many words, so many colors.  Maybe it isn't like the other systems you have taught. You are overwhelmed and you fear your staff, the parents and the child will be overwhelmed. You can't wrap your brain around this new system. You try to make a sentence and can't find the words you want. It's frustrating. So you think, maybe I will make something myself. Wait. All new languages are overwhelming at first. You have just landed in the airport in a country where you don't speak the language. The answer isn't to get back on the plane and leave and it isn't to hide in your hotel watching Netflix in your native language while just gesturing and pointing to clarify your wants and needs to the hospitality staff. The answer is to learn the language. Get in there! Make mistakes. Practice. Learn. Language is messy! 

Use just the basic single words at first. Build up to two word combinations and longer phrases and sentences. Then keep doing it. Soon it won't be too much - not for you and not for your user.  Someday you will find yourself saying, "I never thought we would be worrying about word order!"

3) Choice Boards aren't communication!

Choice boards have their place. They belong alongside robust communication systems for quick, in the moment, decision making. They cannot replace communication robust systems. And if you make your own vocabulary on a speech system there is a decent chance you will, probably, create choice boards. Remind yourself that AAC is for ALL the functions of communication. Not just wants and needs. Not just choices. If you feel like your student isn't ready for "the big time" of using a robust application thing about this: when a child needs to learn to ride a bicycle we don't send them back to practice on a Big Wheels. We put them on a bike! We add supports like training wheels that we quickly fade. We stand beside them and help them learn, running, out of breath, to keep up. We realize they need to be on a bike to learn to ride a bike. And we realize they need to have a robust communication system to learn to use a robust communication system!

4) Evidence Based Practice/Research Based are the words of the decade!
Robust AAC systems have research behind them. Well done, core language based systems, have been researched to show the most frequently words used regardless of the grid size chosen. They attempt to keep symbol placement consistent across pages. Color Coding is deliberate and usually matches either the Fitzgerald Key or Goosens, Elder and Crain color coding.  The high quality AAC systems - be they paper based, on a dedicated device or an app - have SLPs and others whose specific job it is to move research into practice. They agonize over whether to allow activity pages (which are not research supported for teaching long term language skills) or how to arrange less frequently used verbs or adjectives. They spend their days and nights deciding on features and grammar access and so much more so that you don't have to and their systems align with best practice/research. In some ways the SLPs and their teams at the companies that make high quality, robust systems are the unsung heroes of the AAC world. They keep current on the research, keep in touch with parents, teachers, therapists and users and somehow put all of that into their language systems.  Using their work is working smarter, not harder and guarantees you can defend the vocabulary should the need to do that ever occur. 

5) Stuff Happens
Let's face it stuff happens. That kid you spent months creating a vocabulary for might move. And the new district may or may not keep using your work. Or they may go to adult services where all your carefully programmed academic and/or choice making vocabulary is rendered useless. Or the device may crash and you might not have backed it up. Or your hard drive with all the back up crashes at the same time! Or maybe since you are programming so much the next teacher or SLP will as well creating a perfect storm of "too many cooks in the kitchen". (I have had to restart AAC teachingSO MANY times because of "too many cooks in the kitchen").  Stuff happens. Using a robust, high quality AAC system "out of the box" with only changes for personalization increases the chances that your user won't have to learn a brand new system some day. Learning a system with standardized symbols, color coding and organization now will make it easier if he or she DOES need to learn a new system someday.  Using the high quality, robust vocabulary that comes with the system supports the user in the future as well as the user you have now. 


  1. I love this post so much! So important! Nothing worse than getting a student and having to unteach and then reteach them how to use their device. It's like moving the buttons around on a keyboard and having to relearn where they keys are. It's really hard!
    I'd add another reason too. If we move the buttons around, and delete and add them, not only does it make it impossible to model how to use it appropriately, but it also means that you are making decisions about what the person wants to say. And they can never grow and develop and talk about new things because you have deleted everything. If you delete, for eg, foods they don't like, they cannot then tell anyone they don't like that good. They can't tell the person they are ordering food from that they don't eat bananas or olives or meat, because it has been deleted. Same does for any other category. I don't like bubbles, no trains, balloons scare me.
    Plus the person might need that word for school or work.

  2. Hi Kate,
    I am a speech therapist who is currently doing an independent study with 10 other speech therapists. We watched your presentation to parents on Angelmen's Syndrome. It was excellent and we enjoyed your sense of humor. One thing we need to ask. You had mentioned a "PODD" app for the iPad during your talk. Is there a "Pragmatically Organized Display" app on the iPad?
    We are intrigued and curious. Never heard of one before. Thanks so much! Eve Dutkiewicz Speech Therapist Kenosha Wisconsin

    1. Yes. The Tobii Dynavox Compass app has a PODD vocabulary as an additional purchase. It has 15+ or 60 buttons.


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