Monday, September 17, 2012

An AAC App and Autism Success Story

AAC, or Augmentative and Alternative Communication, provides many autistic people with communication options. We keep hearing how some of those same people are discovering new tablet- or app-based AAC options that even better suit their needs. One such person is Nathan, whose mother Lisa Valerio describes him as, "a 9 year old boy with autism who loves playing outside, swimming, jumping on the trampoline, painting, and putting together puzzles. He uses his the LAMP for Words app now to communicate."

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be an AAC family?

My son Nathan has autism and verbal apraxia, and after many years of struggling to communicate (and intense SLP services) we determined he needed an AAC device -- and became an AAC family.

What kind of AAC technology has Nathan been using? How did you choose it?

When Nathan was younger we started with PECS and then moved him to the Go Talk 20.  Then, seeing how he gravitated to a touch screen monitor  -- I knew that a touch screen device was going to be the answer to his communication. I worked closely with Nathan's school SLP and we hired an outside AAC specialist to test him on various devices.

Through this process Nathan actually chose his device, because within minutes of  testing him on the Vantage Lite he was asking for cookie, chips, bubbles, balloons, outside, etc. (all things he really wanted).  He was also tested various other devices and he did not find them intuitive and/or figure out how to immediately communicate with them.

Can you give us examples of how using AAC makes a difference for your son? Does he communicate differently with it than without it?

It has significantly decreased frustration and meltdowns -- he now has a voice to tell us what he wants and needs. He has some very basic sign language and word approximations that he will use to try to communicate if his device is out of battery or is not in close proximity.  But, only a few of us understand his signs and word approximations, so without his device he now truly is without an effective way of communicating.

Nathan using his "Talker"
Does Nathan want to comment about AAC and doors it opens for him? 

I asked him if he like his Talker and he said "yes."

It has opened the doors to a world of learning and communicating.  He is now starting to answer basic questions with it and to make social gestures. However, he proactively uses it to express his wants and needs. He loves to tell me, "Mama, I need a break" and "Go to McDonalds Eat French Fries."

Has Nathan used other AAC apps before?

Yes, we tested the Proloque2Go and Nathan did not find it intuitive or easy to communicate.  Also, once we got the Vantage Lite I did not want to introduce two communication devices -- I wanted him to work on mastering one and not get confused.

Why are you so excited about this specific AAC app? Have you used it yet?

I am excited about Vantage Lite's LAMP for Words app for various reasons:
  • It is now more affordable and so many more people will be able to communicate -- it is a $7000-plus technology system on an iPad for $299. Hopefully through funding sources this app (and iPads) can become more available to underserved populations.
  • The motor planning and language on this device have been tested for over 18 years, and work effectively with children with autism.
  • Selfishly, we now have a back up should Nathan's device break down or get left at school.
  • Nathan can have a "Voice" 24/7.
  • It will be so easy to carry around an iPad with this app on it --  so light weight and easy to stick in a backpack or purse -- so perfect for traveling, doing errands, going out to eat, taking to a friend's house, etc.
Also, I have downloaded the app and created some linked pages to mirror Nathan's Vantage Lite Device. The pages (links) are  friends, family, special activities, favorite foods, etc. Making the edits to the app was twice as fast as on the Vantage Lite and very user-friendly. I can now take a picture on his iPad of a new food item or toy and immediately upload it.

Nathan was not fazed to see his communication system on an iPad.  When I showed it to him, he pressed "Watch TV Wiggles" -- clearly, he saw it as his communication device.

When we posted about the LAMP Words for Life app on our Facebook page, people wanted to know how this app differed from currently available AAC apps, if it was better. What's your opinion?

In my opinion this app can not compare to anything else on the market.  PRC has been the leader in AAC for 45 years.  When the iPad first came out the technology could not meet the needs of what this app needed to do. However, with the advancements in the iPad technology, PRC was now able to bring the technology into an app.

The other comment we received is that $299 is a lot of money for an app. Why is this app worth the price tag?

As noted above, it is a $7k device in an app at $299. The technology behind this app has been researched for 18 years and utilizes the LAMP approach and the Unity® language system: http://www.aacandautism.com/lamp.

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Do you, your child, your student, or your client use AAC? What system best suits your (or their) needs? What are your favorite AAC apps?