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3 Tips for using high tech communication apps

When Alison contacted us to help her son George, they had just got a communication app but didn’t know how to make the most of it.

AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) apps or devices can be crucial tools for children who are unable to communicate effectively using their voices or other established means.

Some children – like George – are yet to find their voices and are looking to use their app or device as much as possible instead.

Other children might use this alongisde speaking and other communication means. We helped Alison and George to get started with the app using the following 3 tips:

Tip 1 – Customise the language within the app

The first language we found was the language relating to George’s everyday life, including topics, toys, programmes, food and places he visited.

Alison initially helped George by showing him where vocabulary could be found, and she modelled the language as much as possible as she talked or as George was showing interest.

If the words were not pre-programmed she added in words that George might really want to use, so that he would be more motivated to have his turn.

This job of customising the vocabulary is something that Alison will now do on a regular basis to keep up with any changes in George’s likes and dislikes, or changes to his daily routines. 

Tip 2 – Promote consistent use

Next we talked about how important it would be for George to access the app consistently wherever and whenever throughout the day.

This included using the app with both adults and peers, at home and at school. One type of language that is really useful to consider is ‘core words’ (sometimes known as ‘core vocabulary’). This can be applied in any situation, for example to comment what you like, when you want something to stop, or you need help.

We also talked about social phrases, which are often more interesting to use rather than single words.

At first, George was given time each day to explore the app by himself, discovering new words and phrases and practising how to get from one to the other.

Finally, we discussed how important it was to keep George’s iPad charged and in a place he could easily access. 

Tip 3 – Take the time to teach others

Sometimes we can think of AAC as a quick solution to communication; if we teach a child a few signs, given them some symbols or an app on an iPad then they will instantly start communicating their every thought, need and feeling.

However, the reality is that most children will need time to learn how to use the app effectively.

Similarly, the adults supporting George at school might not feel confident to sit down and explore the app, to model new language and encourage George to use it too.

Alison accessed some online training videos and skilled herself up. She also joined a support group for AAC users to keep up with new ideas and tips, and to ask any questions along the way.

AAC comes in many shapes and forms. A ‘high tech’ device or app is just one option that might be considered. Symbols in the form of a physical communication book can also be used.

Click here to watch our video about how to support communication with a communication book!


We also explore AAC in our Autism Apraxia Toolkit Program! For more details, why not sign up for free to access some of the week one material here.

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