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Choosing the right grid size

 

When we start an AAC journey for a person with communication difficulties, there are many decisions we need to make. We need to decide on the best AAC system for the learner. One with a balanced vocabulary, based on core words with quick access to fringe words. 

Set up decisions

Once we have chosen a robust AAC system (eg. Proloquo2Go with the Crescendo Vocabulary), we are immediately forced to make more decisions. Some decisions during set up are easy, like choosing the voice the AAC learner will use.

However, choosing the grid size is something that people often struggle with. How many buttons should I start with? How many is too few? How many is too much?

See and touch

We should choose the grid size based on what the AAC learner can see and touch. We shouldn’t choose the grid size based on cognitive skills, receptive language or what we think the AAC learner can do. This is because we often underestimate a learner’s potential. This results in starting with an AAC system with too few words. An AAC learner doesn’t need to prove themselves by showing they can use a few buttons on the page before getting more. AAC learners need to have as many buttons on their page as they can see and touch.

If we see them navigate their iPad and find and touch small app icons, we know they can see and touch smaller icons on the screen. This can help us to decide to give them more buttons on the page.

What are the benefits of more buttons per page?

Before we discuss that, let’s consider the problems with fewer buttons on the page.

Fewer buttons, less opportunities:

 

Screenshot of Proloquo2Go on iPad. It shows a small 3 by 6 icon grid with limited vocabulary.

 Small grids are often developed for beginning communicators with choice making in mind. We think we are making it easier, with fewer buttons to visually scan and bigger buttons to target. In fact, we make it harder for beginning communicators to explore language and develop new skills! For example, it can be harder for them to find and navigate to the words they might need in different folders. 

Another major disadvantage of smaller grid sizes is the challenge of what to do when the AAC learner is ready to move on. For example, go one step up with the next size in the grids. Each time we make this change, the location of buttons move around and we all need to re-learn where the words have moved to.

Compare this now with a larger grid:

 

Image shows a screenshot of Proloquo2Go on an iPad. It shows a 7x11 grid size. The vocabulary is more varied than the smaller grid size and includes words like give, different, because and play.

Choosing a large grid size gives you the most language on a single screen. With more language available at a glance, you can quickly recognize the words you want to use. You don’t have to remember which folder a word is in and then navigate there. 

Giving an AAC learner MORE words is so beneficial. It gives them more to say, and allows them to build language. To support our AAC learners to know how to use these all these words that are now available to them, they need to see us use them. We model, or point to the words as we talk to them.

Considerations for people with physical and vision difficulties

We also may have AAC learners with physical or vision difficulties. It may be a process to find the right grid size and options for them. Sometimes we need to choose smaller grid sizes. Those with physical and/or visual difficulties may not be able to see and touch the buttons on a larger grid size. 

If you are using Proloquo2Go with someone with physical and/or vision difficulties, we encourage you to explore your options and settings:

  •  Consider using Proloquo2Go on a larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The extra size may really help improve access. 
  •  Use tools such as mounting systems, styluses, or key guards
  •  Would the AAC learner better able to access Proloquo2Go using switches and scanning? 
  •  Make changes to colors of buttons and background may help if the user has vision difficulties. For example, select a high contract background option. 
  •  Try the different access settings within Proloquo2Go. For example, 'hold duration'. This could help someone with a physical impairment access buttons much more easily
  •  Adjustments to appearance such as button spacing. This could help someone access their buttons with less mis-hits

If you need further information on any of these options, please contact our support team.

It may be a trial and error process. But if you take the time now, your AAC learner may have access to not only larger grid sizes but more language!

What people think

Often when people FIRST start using an AAC system with lots of buttons on it, they feel overwhelmed. They might say the page is “too busy”. They feel they need to hunt and peck to find the words they need. People worry “if I feel this way, how will my student manage this?”.

The best way to overcome these feelings is to START using the grid. Model as soon and as often as you can. The more you use the grid, the easier it will become. You may only model or point to one word on the grid at a time. You may make mistakes. Sometimes you might not find the word you need. All of this is part of the process of learning an AAC system and modeling regularly for an AAC learner. Get all team members on board and support each other as you model. Allow yourself time to learn the grid. Don’t give up too soon!

Some people find a paper/light-tech paper copy of their grid can help. You can print a 7x11 core word boards and displays from the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom. Alternatively, you can make a screen capture of the home page of your AAC system and print this out to use. Many people find that they make fewer errors pointing to words and word combinations on these light-tech core word boards.  It also makes it easier when they go back to their iPad to do the modeling.

Another option may be to use Progressive Language, released in version 5 of Proloquo2Go.  It allows you to hide or mask some buttons,  and then gradually add them back to develop language. It is an excellent way for an AAC learner to start on a larger grid size. As they progress and need more words, they can be shown again without the words needing to change locations.

I’ve chosen my grid size - what next?

The next and most important step is always to model. Model and point to words on the grid as often as you can in day to day conversations. So much language and communication can happen when we use large grid sizes. Give our AAC learners every chance to have more words and use those words!

~Amanda Hartmann

Amanda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with over 20 years experience working in schools and with families and as a technology consultant. All this has led to a passion for working with children and young adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. She gives lectures on Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Queensland and loves sharing what she knows about AAC and literacy!

~Jennifer Marden

Jennifer is VP of Clinical Development at AssistiveWare. She became a Speech-Language Pathologist in 1999, after 14 years as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard. Jennifer specializes in AAC for children and adults with a wide variety of communication disorders and has provided AAC services in school, hospital, clinic, home, and adult day program settings.
 

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