More Than an AAC Device? Is it ever appropriate to use a student’s tablet—designed for facilitating communication—for other purposes? From My Perspective
Free
From My Perspective  |   June 01, 2018
More Than an AAC Device?
Author Notes
  • Maria Landon, MS, CCC-SLP, is director of the Speech Therapy Department at the Center for Discovery in Harris, New York. mlandon@tcfd.org
    Maria Landon, MS, CCC-SLP, is director of the Speech Therapy Department at the Center for Discovery in Harris, New York. mlandon@tcfd.org×
Article Information
Augmentative & Alternative Communication / From My Perspective
From My Perspective   |   June 01, 2018
More Than an AAC Device?
The ASHA Leader, June 2018, Vol. 23, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.23062018.6
The ASHA Leader, June 2018, Vol. 23, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.23062018.6
You’ve done the augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) assessment, tested different applications, submitted the request, received approval—and the iPad (complete with application and accessories) has arrived!
You’re excited. Your student is excited. The whole team is excited! You schedule a hands-on training for the team so that everyone is comfortable with the language system. Generalization of use is so important, and with the training, everyone is familiar with the system and committed to using it with the student. Success!
Then the classroom teacher starts talking about a great new current-events application she just heard about. The occupational therapist wants to install a handwriting app. The student’s one-to-one aide thinks a visual timer would be very helpful during transitional times.
So, now what? You want to be a team player, but you have concerns about the appropriateness of multifunctional iPad use when its primary function is communication. It’s time for the team to look at the pros, cons and skills associated with using an iPad for a variety of activities.

You want to be a team player, but you have concerns about the appropriateness of multifunctional iPad use when its primary function is communication.

Pros and cons
Students who use iPads for communication might also benefit from other, readily available applications: Time-management apps can help students transition with timers or alarms. Scheduling apps can improve vocational and task-completion activities. Teachers can supplement academics through specific applications or by using online resources. Music and yoga apps can promote sensory modulation. Email, messaging and video calls—as well as using the iPad for leisure with friends in school—improve social engagement.
Each of these functional uses has merit. However, if a communication device is being used for all of those activities during the day, is it being used for communication? As a team, we must acknowledge and address possible areas of conflict.
Here’s one potential problem: Often students who rely on iPads for communication also have difficulty transitioning from a preferred activity to a less-preferred activity. So if the student uses other apps on the device during unstructured leisure time, the student can easily develop a negative association with the communication application, viewing it as something that caused a fun experience to end.
And, most important, an iPad used for an alternate activity is no longer available for communication.

An iPad used for an alternate activity is no longer available for communication.

Necessary skills
Here’s an example of these difficulties. Imagine this scenario: A teacher says to a student who has an iPad with a communication application—but who is using it to watch a favorite movie— “How much free time is left?”
To answer this question, the student must have the following skills:
  • Motor access—the physical ability to independently change screens on the iPad across applications. In this case, the student would have to change from the movie app to the timer, then to the communication app.

  • Follow directions—be able to understand and follow a variety of directions (indirect, direct, familiar and novel). Here, the student would have to understand that the teacher was asking him a question and expecting an answer.

  • Impulse control—the ability to stop an intrinsically motivating activity for an academically based activity. Leisure times are highly motivating for students, and it can be difficult for the student to end a free-time activity.

  • Situational appropriateness—the ability to determine when certain applications (leisure versus school-based) are appropriate. Once free time is over, does the student understand the expectation of staying within the appropriate app?

If the student can independently answer the teacher’s question about remaining free time using these skills, the team should feel confident that the student can successfully use the iPad for a number of functions.
But even if the student has these necessary skills, there’s another important factor: the rate of communication. Successful communication is an exchange of information—typically fast-paced—between people. If a student must navigate across applications before producing a response, the communication partner may no longer be attending to the conversation. This extended wait, or processing time, may be natural during therapeutic or educational activities—but not during social exchanges.

A student’s team can turn to a variety of strategies to maintain the communicative functional use of the iPad while still giving the students access to other modalities of academic materials.

Alternative solutions
But what if the student hasn’t fully mastered these skills? The student’s team might want to consider some alternatives.
  • If motor access is an issue, can the school’s occupational therapist or assistive technology professional develop a plan that may include mounting the device or supplying accessories to ease access?

  • Could the student use two separate iPads—one for academic and leisure activities, and one readily available for communication? Different cases reduce the potential for confusion.

  • Can the team use the “guided access” setting—an accessibility tool for students who have difficulty controlling the impulse to leave a less-preferred application for one they enjoy more? With this setting, a student can’t close out of an app without entering the correct code. This strategy can keep a student in a specific application without initiating a power struggle between the user and instructor.

  • Could other forms of technology be considered for the presentation of materials—such as a SMART Board, touch-screen computer or paper/object-based manipulatives? These strategies allow each student a way to interact physically with the activity without limiting the student’s ability to communicate.

  • Does the student have other opportunities for leisure and social development that are not screen-based? In-person activities give students more natural opportunities to interact with one another. The language system on the student’s device should include social language—and students need focused practice opportunities to access it.

Interaction with multiple forms of technology and academic materials is a vital part of the learning process for all students, including those who use an iPad for communication. A student’s team can turn to a variety of strategies to maintain the communicative functional use of the iPad while still giving the students access to other modalities of academic materials. However, it’s important to remember that if an iPad’s primary function is communication, it should always be available for communication in all daily activities.
Underlying the successful use of an iPad for communication, or any other form of AAC, is a strong team approach. Each team member (occupational therapist, physical therapist, teacher and others) should be a part of the decision-making to ensure that the communication system is best-suited for the student’s skills in all areas, such as fine motor, gross motor and visual motor. And all team members should understand how to operate the system and how to best help the student use the device with various communication partners throughout all daily activities.
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
June 2018
Volume 23, Issue 6