What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


AAC Resources

 The above graphic is from AAC TechConnect.

When working with students who are using any form of Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC), it is important to teach several components when using a device. These may be good areas to focus on when writing an IEP: 
  • How to operate the device and take care of it as independently as possible
  • How to communicate with it, (Eyes, Ears, Voice, Hands/Feet, Brain, Body, Feelings)
  • When to use it and when not to (Just like everyone- when is it appropriate to talk and not appropriate to talk)
  • The power of language (When I say this, I get this - or - when I say this, this happens)
Consider, just as typical kids need to hear language for quite a while before starting to talk, so do our kids who need AAC. It is important to do all those natural activities with non-verbal children, such as- reading to them, singing activities (Where is Thumbkin), playing games, talking about your surroundings, making animal sounds...

When working with students, no matter what their age, begin with the philosophy of PRESUMING COMPETENCE, Communicate Accordingly and remember to Create Communication Opportunities!!


 There are 4 Identified Primary Functions of AAC:
  1. Expression of wants and needs
  2. Exchange of Information
  3. Social Closeness
  4. Social Etiquette

Researcher Janice Light provides us with 4 Communication Competence Areas to consider when working with our students:

  1. Socially Competent (initiate, give and take, communicate functions, interactions)
  2. Strategically Competent 
  3. Linguistic (symbol mastery)  
  4. Operational (ex: what level should your voice volume be in this environment?)
To think about it even further and looking at specifics, isn't this what communication is all about: Language Acts as the Foundation For Communication Exchange

  • Ask a specific person for assistance
  • Request a diverse array of specific items
  • Ask for a break
  • Comment about an activity or personal achievement
  • Comment about a personal setback or disappointment
  • Comment about an aesthetic preference
  • Convey a point of view
  • Initiate an idea or choice
  • Initiate and sustain a social exchange
  • Initiate a change in the schedule
  • Ask and answer an array of questions
  • Anticipate an event or visit
  • Express humor about specific interactions or situations
  • Express remorse
  • Express empathy
  • Express frustration
  • Express desire to see a family member or friend
  • Express concern about others
  • Demonstrate generosity
  • Understand why a personal change in lifestyle or health status occurs
  • Understand when and why an event or change occurs
  • Gain clarification and/or additional information on a topic
  • Recognize errors and inform communication partners
  • Reflect about a personal experience
  • Negotiate the terms of a compromise
  • Disagree with directives and offer alternatives
  • Advocate for oneself and others
  • Change one’s mind
  • Review social guidelines or stories independently
  • Rehearse scripts as a path toward greater understanding and acceptance

How do we start?  Model, Model, Model!

Once a device is in place: 
It is important to remember that most kids and their families have never seen anyone use a device. Everyone needs to know what is in the device and how it works. Each communication partner needs to take some time to get to know the device as modeling is so very important. The speaking communication partner should model the device, naturally, without saying "touch this one" or doing a hand over hand assists. Instead, just "talk" to the child, as if it were your device also. Or use a metacognitive approach (demonstrate your own thinking), "Let's see, I want to tell you that I need a hug. First I think I would need to go to the ____ page because _____..."

Be sure to introduce the device around an activity that is fun and reinforcing.

It is okay to learn together. Relax and make it fun. Opening a child up to the powerful world of communication is a gift. Once they understand the power of language, it will be hard to stop them! 

Love, Love, Love this one-page guide called AAC Boot Camp regardless of AAC system used (no tech, low tech, high tech) or skill level...Getting AAC Users COMMUNICATING. Please share this with all staff and families involved with an AAC user!  

There are some wonderful AAC resources on the Internet. This listing is designed around some of my favorites. I will continue to add to it as I find new resources that might be useful, so please check back. (Provided in alphabetical order, not in order of importance.) 

Be sure to start with The 10 Commandments of Voice Output.

If you are working with older students, please go directly to this site's posting on Creating Communication Opportunities for the Older Learner.

First things first: AAC (like many things in special education) has a language of its own. If you need a glossary of AAC terms, University of Washington AugComm has an extensive one worth bookmarking.
    AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication offers an Overview of AAC tools and strategies. Many topics listed with various links by Communication Greenhous.
    1. How SLP's can get free access AAC apps! 
    2. AAC Intervention by Dr. Caroline Musselwhite, another leader in the field, has a very simple site with some wonderful information worth exploring. Also, check out Carol's Corner.
    3. AAC Kids is early intervention strategies.
    4. AAC and Literacy by Janice Light & David McNaughton, provides guidelines for teaching literacy skills to learners with special needs, especially learners with complex communication needs.
    5. AAC Myths Revealed is one of the DynaVox/Mayer-Johnson resources that provides a really clean and easy explanation about the most common fears regarding AAC use. 
    6. AAC Resource Guide for Teachers by Pennsylvania State Education Resource Center is a very complete PDF that covers a lot of ground in a very precise manner.
    7. AAC-RERC is a "collaborative research group dedicated to the development of effective AAC technology." The area on the left under "Features" is my favorite section where there is information on AAC Literacy, Emergency Information, Early Intervention and oh, so much more. 
    8. ACTS provides a great Funding Process worksheet when looking at how to fund an AAC device in California.
    9. Augmentative and Alternative Communication InterventionA by Janice Light offers top of the art strategies.
    10. The Bridge School is offering more and more support systems worth exploring and visiting often. Activities and Ideas section is growing and can be very useful. I love the video clips they have provided. 
    11. We have a role too. Don't forget to educate others! Communicating with an AAC user and Guidelines for Communicating with a Person who uses AAC. 
    12. Compic and Scope offer a wonderful visual representation of the Communication Bill of Rights (open in pdf reader). I recommend everyone who is dealing with anyone who is nonverbal have this posted as a reminder of our own behaviors and the goals we should be setting for ourselves.
    13. The Communication Matrix Profile offers a one-page Profile and a Communication Skills List. The Communication Matrix is an assessment tool designed to pinpoint exactly how an individual is communicating and to provide a framework for determining logical communication goals.
    14. The DynaVox Implementation Toolbox is packed full of resources worth exploring such as Dynamic AAC Goals, AAC Myths and Using Multiple Communication Methods to name a few. 
    15. Early Intervention for young children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and other disabilities by Janice Light and Kathy Drager from Penn State provides you with an extremely rich site/resource no matter what the age of your child, including
    16. Step-by-step guidelines for early intervention to build language and communication skills
    17. Photographs and videotaped examples of intervention with young children with special needs
    18. A YouTube Video worth sharing and exploring showing students communicating with each other using various forms of AAC: Helping to Communicate through AAC. 
    19. Let's Book It just provides lots of great ideas for making books. Not designed with AAC in mind but I think it provides some great ideas for how to put all that important stuff into a book format that kids will love. They could make their own little book based on their goals in speech... 
    20. Assistive Technology and Augmentative Communication by Linda Burkhart include basic AAC information by a leader in the field.
    21. PictureSET has a wonderful listing of downloadable low tech materials worth exploring.
    22. PrAACticalAAC provides regular tips that are quick and to the point. They also post on Pinterest.   
    23. Prenke Romich has an AAC Language Lab with information and videos discussing the use of AAC, language outcomes, objectives and teaching resources from a developmental language framework.
    24. Provincial Integration Support Program is full of great handouts on various topics related to communication. This site is a must!!
    25. Lori Tufte compiled a wonderful Questionaire for AAC Integration worth keeping on hand to help identify areas that require further training. 
    26. SET British Columbia provides a comprehensive Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Device Curriculum. This provides some great information for providing a kind of scope and sequence for working with AAC users themselves although this is not how it was intended.
    27. Speaking of Speech offers a section for materials exchange (including some Boardmaker pages in PDF format) concentrating on articulation, fluency, social/pragmatics, AAC.... and an IEP goal bank. Worth exploring. 
    28. SpeechBubble is a database hosted by the ACE Centre in Oxford, England. The database includes detailed information about almost all communication aids currently available. Price and supplier information will be different for people in the USA but the database could be very useful for identifying devices that might fit a particular child that you are working with. Worth exploring.
    29. Strategies for Enhancing Non-Verbal Communication is a rich resource with a variety of topics, providing you with PDFs worth exploring. 
    30. Supporting Communication through AAC is centered around Cerebral Palsy. It offers a 12 module package available as PDF downloadable materials.  
    31. Teaching AAC: Reports from the Classroom  - This unique approach by Pati King-DeBaun was developed to systematically teach communication skills to children who are nonverbal. Highlights include the Integrated Model of Communication Instruction. Learn more about this model and watch classrooms and students progress. Highlights of this blog will include a peek into the Communication Classroom at The Standing Tall Program in New York City.
    32. Tobii Assistive Technology has a training page offering a range of live and archived webinars; guides, tips and tricks, troubleshooting page and other resources worth exploring.
    33. UW (University of Washington Augcom helps to break down the parts of an AAC assessment and what should be considered. They also include and glossary and list of AAC Resources.
    34. Voice for Living has a nice section dedicated to using a voice in the classroom. 
    35. For a listing of technology that is out there, with links of where to learn more about each, visit Write State University's current technology page.
    36. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Connecting Young Kids - Yaack includes the most complete, comprehensive information available for free! Great resource.
    We are all dealing more and more with students with Autism. I thought you might appreciate a few sites dealing specifically with AAC and Autism as it is an area that is growing more and more. Here are some of my favorites:
    1. Augmentative Resources which provides "Materials, Aids and AAC Devices to Enhance Communication and Language". I love their stuff!! Download their Pdf catalog. It is worth it.
    2. The Center for AAC & Autism "is dedicated to building awareness of the power of AAC to change the lives of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, who are challenged by limited spontaneous communication skills." LAMP focuses on giving the individual independent access to vocabulary on voice output AAC devices that use consistent motor planning.
    3. iCan has a section on using AAC with students who have Autism plus other resources. It will take you through a step-by-step approach to learning more about this topic. "AAC offers great potential as a means to support verbal skills. For some individuals, AAC may be temporary, for others the need for AAC will be lifelong."
    4. PictureSET provides a collection of downloadable visual supports that can be used by students for both receptive and expressive communication in the classroom, at home, and in the community. This is a searchable database allows you to find a wide range of useful visual supports for different curriculum areas, activities, and events.
    5. SpeechPage.com which provides tons of materials which aren't too expensive.
    6. Voice for Living has a really nice section dedicated to children with Autism and AAC. Some very helpful articles.  
    Need some help figuring out the Funding Maze? AAC Funding Help is the place to locate all your answers.

    For visuals and links to various instructional AAC sites, visit my Pinterest site, "AAC". 

    Considering an iPad to support communication, explore this listing of AAC Apps but know that the iPad is not necessarily the best tool for your specific child. Be sure to have an AAC assessment before purchasing any tools as there is often more to consider than what some may think. 

    Also, see AAC Pinterest Board.