For this review, I solicited the help of an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) expert, Kasey Philpott. She is a Speech and Language Pathologist working at Little Star Center (LSC). The first application I chose to discuss is a commonly used AAC app called Proloquo2go (P2G). P2G is a text-to-speech app. If you are new to AAC, you may wonder what is meant by text-to-speech.
Well – basically, it means that the person looks at his iPad and uses its touch screen to communicate by arranging pictures in the app to form a sentence. After this arrangement, he presses a button (labeled “talk”), and the iPad “speaks” or “reads” his sentence, hence the text-to-speech!
This specific app is commonly used with non-vocal learners as their primary form of communication. Learners at our center use the app across a range of complexities from a simple one word request to larger communiqués which can include adjectives or other phrases commonly used in sentence strips, such as “I want…” Learners also use the app to label different items in their environment (very handy for joint attention). One use that we value greatly from this app which is used by one of our learners, is the ability to provide important personal information if, tragically, she became lost or separated from her caregivers. As a non-vocal teenager with ASD without this app, she would be unable to respond appropriately to anyone who approached her and asked, “are you lost?” or “can I help you?” With P2G, she can respond by “telling them” her name and address. AAC and text-to-speech apps give a voice to individuals who other-wise are with-out the ability to produce speech.
The alternative communication industry has been an area significantly impacted by new, lightweight, fast, and mobile devices. The iPad, (or its smaller cousin, the iPod touch) is more portable than prior alternative communication devices such as the commonly used Dynavox or Smartbox. P2G is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, the premiere assistive communication app for an iDevice (at the time of this article, P2G is only available on Apple® mobile devices). However, with many premiere goods, this item comes with a steep price ($199 through the iTunes store). With P2G, my conclusion is that you get what you pay for— it’s expensive, but probably worth it!
Check it out at www.assistiveware.com for a more comprehensive discussion about all the features and purchase options. Some of the key features of the app that I value include:
- 14,000 pre-loaded symbols/ icons
- Easy to add pictures and customize vocabulary
- Advanced word prediction (start typing and the system gives several options as to what you are trying to type)
- Multi-user support (ideal for classrooms where one device may be shared)
- Ease of use
- Great options for a variety of male/female voice output representing individuals of all ages
- Back up vocabularies and share capabilities with other devices
- Easy to change the pronunciation of words
One criticism of iDevices and all AAC devices is that the malfunction of the system can rob a person of their “voice”. At Little Star Center, we find that most of our individuals can use both the symbols preloaded in the P2G app and Boardmaker symbols interchangeably. Therefore, we recommend a backup “low tech” binder with pictures representing the individual’s commonly requested items. The iPad is built like a tank so we have not typically had to resort to low tech binders due to malfunction. However, we do resort to these binders when devices are forgotten at home. In these instances the individual(s) had no difficulty adjusting to actual physical pictures to make requests. Another work around for addressing times in which a device is forgotten somewhere, is to have the app loaded on several devices or have a version of the individual’s pre-set app backed up to quickly share with loaner hardware.
In fact, the ability to share backups is one of the better features; one that may justify the high price. With this you can have the most current version of someone’s communication system loaded on all your devices. This is really useful when you have multiple instructors (often with multiple iDevices) teaching new language targets and updating the communication system. As mentioned above, while the P2G comes preloaded with several icons, it is fairly easy to customize items by taking a picture and typing the name of the item.
Another great feature of P2G is the interface and the ability to easily expand and individualize the available communication options. This is particularly useful for novel requests suited to an individual’s environment. The Wii-U is a new gaming system, out this year, and likely to be a hit with lots of people. However, someone may already have several gaming systems in their home, rendering a simple game or video-game icon too general. It is important to have several specific icons to reinforce each specific request. To do this, you simply take a picture of the Wii-U and type Wii-U. The text output may need a little work, since “Wii-U” is a novel word, but you can adjust the system to say something that is fairly close to the targeted word. P2G is also well suited for teaching other forms of communication other than requesting.
The LSC has used the P2G app to teach learners to label items in their environment, and to engage in basic conversation skills. Having the ability to label several items is essential for expanding communication to additional requests and conversation topics. For example, a learner was successfully taught to use the device to identify different people he works with and encounters throughout his day. He also learned to label various actions. He then spontaneously requested for one of the individuals he learned to label to tickle him, an action he was also taught to label. The P2G app is a robust application well worth the high cost when identifying a viable option, in particular as an alternative communication option for non-vocal individuals with ASD.
As many of you may know, the fact you can use an iDevice to access many fun games and videos is a huge strength, but also a nuisance. Especially when using the device for communication or computer based instruction. The pesky home button allows users to close out of an app and open other, likely more fun, apps. However this may not be the intended or desired use. This difficulty with the home button inspired me to segue from the P2G review, to evaluate a possible solution.
An internet search turned up one possible solution, the Addycase with its “patent pending anti-home button cover.” The Addycase company (www.addycase.com) graciously offered a sample cover to test. The case shipped quickly and arrived the next day. The Addycase representative indicated they only had a bright pink case to sample. However, the company has several additional bright colored cases available. The case appeared very well constructed. The cover was tested on a second generation iPad. The cover fit very snugly, in fact it took a little muscle power to put it on. Once on, the home button was covered with a thick plastic, making it impossible to push the button. I tried while applying significant pressure. Unfortunately, it is fairly simple to flip forward the part of the case covering the home button, and therefore allow full access to the button (hint, this is something you will want to do not in view of the individual using the device). The next step was to see how the case holds up when used by an iDevice expert.
We have a 5 year old learner at LSC who is very familiar with all iDevices. He uses iPads, iPods, and iPhones to communicate via P2G. He can often be found on each of these devices with one of his favorite activities, watching the Backyardigans. To test out the Addycase, I adjusted the settings on his iPad so that it would not go to sleep before giving it to him. Immediately after we gave him the iPad, he tried to locate the home button. He spun the device around and tried feverously pressing the area where the home button was (now covered), and even tried pushing the camera hole at the top. It took him about 8 hours of iPad use before he was eventually able to slide his finger under the Addycase and access the home button.
The Addycase is still a viable option although it did not stand up to our kiddo’s rigorous testing. I expect the case would be quite effective with anyone who doesn’t have a long history of using the home button.
The Addycase, when combined with software on the devices, such as P2G provides a solution for our learners who need extra support to communicate their wants, needs, and desires.
I urge you to explore these options and let us know if you have other technology apps or devices you would like to see reviewed in the Tech Corner!