Transitioning from symbols to text-based AAC

For people with communication impairments, their communication and literacy skills can be intricately linked. A person may first use a robust AAC system, with symbols and core words for effective and meaningful communication. But in time, they also add typing and spelling to their skill set, using a keyboard to further add to their communication. For many people with communication impairments, having the fastest and most efficient means of communication is essential. And while their robust core word vocabulary will allow them to independently generate unique communication messages, ultimately developing literacy and the ability to type, can often lead to a faster system of communication for them. The power and flexibility of literacy for an AAC user, is that it gives them the ability to say whatever they want, with just 26 little characters! Effective and efficient literacy skills can open so many doors for people with little or no speech and allows for successful and independent communication.

So how can we better support this development of and transition to literacy? When should we start working on this transition? What are some practical steps to support literacy development for AAC?

Please note, in this blog post, while we may refer to our symbol-based AAC system, Proloquo2Go and our text-based AAC system, Proloquo4Text, the general principles can be applied to other AAC systems.

symbol based AAC system and text based AAC system

Guiding Beliefs

When starting AAC- be it symbol or text-based, we need to remember our guiding beliefs. Firstly we presume competence, always believing that our AAC user has the ability and right to develop an effective communication and literacy system. Next, we should always start with the end in mind. If we want our AAC user to be a successful and independent communicator, we need to give them the right tools and strategies at the outset. There are no prerequisite skills required to do this; there is no age that things should or shouldn’t be introduced - everyone should have the chance to develop communication and literacy.

Best Practices in AAC

Throughout the process of implementing communication and literacy, best practices in AAC always apply. These are the things we talk about all the time, and apply to whether we are working on a symbol-based communication system or a text-based communication system, or both.

They include:

Factors to consider

While there are no hard and fast rules, there may be some things to consider in transitioning from symbol-based AAC to text-based AAC.

Factors for long term symbols users

Have you observed any of the following things in the AAC user?

  • The AAC user is using the grid keyboard to type instead of browsing the vocabulary for some words
  • The AAC user has begun to “prefer” typing view
  • The AAC user has started adding their own buttons
  • The AAC user has started typing words & messages into other programs and apps such as Safari, YouTube, messages, emails, etc.

Factors for considering text-based communication for beginning communicators

It is important to remember that an AAC user starting out with a symbol-based AAC system, can always be exposed to literacy and text-based communication. There are no age or skill prerequisites to start introducing literacy. In almost all cases, it is getting the team on board and supporting the environment, that is more important for success than any factors/skills specific to the AAC user.

Strategies for symbol-based AAC

There are some things you can do NOW within your AAC system, that may support more literacy and text-based communication.

  • Increase size of text
  • Selectively turn off symbol supports on certain buttons
  • Turn off symbol supports in message window
  • Quick and easy access to Typing/Keyboard
  • Consistently model in Typing/keyboard view
  • Use A-Z folders for Describing words and actions
  • Save typed messages onto buttons
  • List view for language/ writing tasks
  • Utilise message sharing options for real writing/communication
  • Typing in words into the search feature

Strategies for text-based AAC

Again, there are things you can do as you introduce a text-based AAC system.

  • Personalise sentences and phrases
  • Even though there are no visuals or pictures in Proloquo4Text, you use colours and to help a user find things
  • Copy buttons from Proloquo2Go into Proloquo4Text
  • Copy text from other apps
  • Model consistently in the text-based app. For some specific ways to model on a text-based app, you may like to read this article.
  • Make sure that both systems are always available, so the AAC user can decide which system they most need and want to use when they communicate
  • Can you use the same voice in both AAC systems?

General Literacy Strategies

Starting to maximise opportunities for literacy within your AAC system is only the beginning. All AAC users should have direct and explicit teaching of literacy skills consistently and reliably.

There are many people doing some great and amazing work in supporting literacy development for AAC users. Here are some awesome weblinks that you may like to check out:

Some of the general literacy strategies that can be worked on with AAC users include:

  • Engaging and interactive learning of letters and sounds
  • Word work, word walls and word learning
  • Access to alternative pencils
  • Real reasons for writing
  • Publish messages/writing into books
  • Interest-ability matched reading and writing
  • and much more!

Here at AssistiveWare, we realise how important literacy is…. In every Core Word Planner in the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom, you will find some fantastic literacy suggestions to implement into your activities and core word learning.

Conclusion

Communication and Literacy gives people power! There are so many things, small and big, that can support AAC users on this journey.

~Amanda Hartmann

Amanda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with over 19 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!

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