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Taking the Pulse of Augmentative and Alternative Communication on iOS

Introduction

White PaperDuring Autism Awareness Month, an exploratory survey on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and iPads, iPod touches and iPhones was distributed as part of research collaboration between AssistiveWare and professors from the University of San Diego and the California State University at San Marcos.
 
In this blog post we provide an overview of the key facts and findings of the survey that among others revealed that in the opinion of respondents, Proloquo2Go and other full-featured AAC Apps together with Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod touch can deliver an AAC solution that supports considerable improvements in key areas such as independence, behavior, interaction with others and learning.

About the survey

Topic of the survey: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and iPads, iPod touches and iPhones 
 
Why was the survey conducted?: This initial exploratory survey was conducted to identify interesting trends about the user community and the benefits of AAC on consumer devices.
 
Who conducted the survey: The survey is part of research collaboration between AssistiveWare and professors from the University of San Diego and the California State University at San Marcos.
 
How was the survey distributed: The online survey was distributed through Facebook, Twitter and newsletters targeting users, family members and professionals in the Proloquo2Go and AAC on iOS user communities.
 
Who responded to the survey: 232 people: 17 AAC Users, 98 family members, caregivers and friends of AAC users, and 117 professionals working with AAC users. All the respondents were people who had previously shown an interest in AAC for iOS devices.
 
Disclaimer: The survey is of a preliminary, exploratory nature with a relatively small sample size and a “convenience” sample. Nonetheless, a number of patterns emerge across all three groups of respondents providing confidence in emerging trends and support for larger and more in-depth research on this important topic.

"One of the most exciting results from the survey is that an overwhelming majority – as many as 60% to 80% of the AAC users and families – are seeing real-life benefits of this technology. Improvements not just in communication, but also in independence, behavior, atmosphere at home and general wellbeing are observed since using Proloquo2Go. This is a great source of inspiration.”

David Niemeijer, founder and CEO of AssistiveWare

Key findings

Impacts

  • 60% to 80% of the AAC users and families reported improvements in communication with others, in independence, in behavior, in the atmosphere at home, and in general wellbeing since starting with Proloquo2Go or another full-featured AAC App.
  • About 50% of the adult AAC users and over 55% of the family members and caregivers report an improvement of verbalization and speech for the AAC user.
  • 40-70% of respondents report use of an iOS AAC app to communicate in a variety of other settings beyond the home.

Challenges

  • Less than 10% of adult AAC users and less than 25% of family members and caregivers of AAC users report receiving professional support to effectively implement AAC.
  • Close to 20% of the professionals and close to 30% of the family members and caregivers consider the professional supporting the AAC user not or only slightly knowledgeable on AAC.
  • Family members and caregivers report that only 20% of the AAC users in their care use AAC for the full range of communication functions, such as starting and changing a conversation.

Mobile AAC use

  • One third of the AAC users reported that three years ago they used a high-tech dedicated AAC device. Today, virtually all (also) use an iOS device for AAC.
  • Close to 60% of the family members and caregivers and over 65% of the adult AAC users reported that they started working with a full-featured AAC app less than 1 year ago. 
  • Adult AAC users and family members of AAC users report that 90% use an iPad for communication, while over 25% also uses an iPhone or iPod touch. Additionally, 15% to 20% also use a dedicated communication device.
  • AAC apps on iOS devices are used across all ages. More than 55% of the professionals reporting the use of AAC apps with preschoolers and 10% working with individuals over 65 years old.
  • Family members and caregivers report that over 90% of the AAC users they care for use the device for non-AAC activities, with the most frequent categories of use being entertainment (85%) and learning (70%).

Our survey reinforced what I've been hearing from the field - parents, teachers and Speech and Language Professionals realize that SLP's need more training in AAC. They need to know how to use these cool new devices and apps to take advantage of the potential communication improvements. Often the broad range of communication benefits is not fully realized because too many kids and clients are stuck on labeling, requesting and answering endless repetitive questions. SLP’s can help us change that. I hope the American Speech and Hearing Association will lead the way again and support their members to bring even more of their language and communication expertise into the 21st century world of communication options that give new meaning to "freedom of speech".

Anne M. Donnellan, PhD, professor University of San Diego and Director, USD Autism Institute

​Key conclusions

Impacts

  • In the opinion of respondents, Proloquo2Go and other full-featured AAC Apps together with Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod touch can deliver an AAC solution that provides considerable improvements in key areas such as independence, behavior, interaction with others and learning.
  • Despite the limited nature of our data, we are hopeful that a wider availability of AAC might enhance speech development for many individuals.
  • It appears that AAC apps on iOS devices provide a flexible, mobile communication solution that is being used in many different environments.

Challenges

  • It appears there may be a serious shortage of knowledgeable professionals capable of assisting families with effective AAC use.
  • The preliminary data suggests the potential of many AAC users to access a fuller range of communication functions is as yet insufficiently tapped, with less than 20% using the full spectrum of communication functions.

Mobile AAC use

  • It appears that Apple’s iOS devices and AAC apps have brought AAC within reach of a much larger population than was traditionally served with dedicated devices.
  • Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod touch appear to be used as an AAC solution by a variety of age groups ranging from those receiving early intervention to seniors.
  • Many users benefit from having access to more than one iOS device for AAC, perhaps because of the affordability of the devices and the benefits of the different form factors.
  • Adoption of iOS devices for AAC use appears to be accelerating.
  • The multipurpose nature of the iOS devices and available apps make the devices useful for many purposes beyond AAC.

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