Modeling is the most important strategy to teach children to communicate with an AAC system. In this blog post, we explain how the design of AssistiveWare Proloquo® facilitates modeling. As part of the “Proloquo explained” blog series, it is written for anyone who wants an in-depth explanation of the design of the new Proloquo AAC app.
Modeling is important
Children learn language by being immersed in their mother tongue. They observe and listen to people speaking to them and around them all day. They experiment with producing sounds and speak their first words. A good AAC system supports and facilitates this natural acquisition of language. Good communication partners use the AAC system, selecting graphic symbols as they speak the word, to provide a model for the AAC user to observe and learn. This process is commonly called modeling. (Research on AAC interventions may refer to it as aided language stimulation, augmented input, or aided language input.)
Modeling is a well-established research-based intervention. The goal is to mimic the immersion children naturally get with speech. The more modeling occurs by everyone around the AAC user, the faster they can learn how to use the system and develop their language skills. With this in mind, we emphasized the need to support modeling when designing Proloquo.
Modeling as a starting point
Modeling is an intervention for children acquiring language through AAC. This means the child is not the only user of the communication system. We designed Proloquo to also support parents, teachers, and other communication partners as users . The logic that guided us is that the easier we make Proloquo to use, the more it would be used. At first by adults, and then by the child. The more Proloquo is used around the child, the more likely it will be that they can expand their language and communication skills. We took a number of steps to facilitate modeling:
Make the visual design of Proloquo attractive and inviting
Make Proloquo easy to learn and use
Design a transparent and self-evident vocabulary
Give everyone around the AAC user easy access to Proloquo
Have a fixed motor plan for essential words
A companion coaching app - Proloquo Coach
Attractive and inviting visual design
Therapists or engineers typically design AAC systems. We took a much more holistic approach. Proloquo was designed by a team that included speech therapists, special educators, parents, engineers, and designers. Our design team has expertise in both visual design and user experience, including user testing and accessibility standards. The initial prototype was beta tested by AAC users, parents, and therapists. All of these people worked together to design an inviting interface where AAC best practice is combined with design best practices. Everything from button shapes, colors, spacing, and layout, went through multiple iterations over several months until we arrived at clean designs for both light and dark mode.
Easy to learn and use
Many AAC apps, our own Proloquo2Go included, provide multiple configuration options to support a wide range of users. This makes these systems powerful in the hands of experts. Yet this same flexibility is overwhelming for most families. Through relentless optimization, we designed Proloquo as a much easier-to-learn and use AAC system that is visually and physically accessible to the vast majority of potential AAC users.
Proloquo has a single simple layout and a single interaction method. Every feature is available with one tap. No need for tap and hold or double-tap. No hidden features. Features are easy to discover and learn without a manual or a degree in speech-language pathology.
A transparent and self-evident vocabulary
One of the strengths of Proloquo2Go’s Crescendo™ vocabulary is that its categorical organization is relatively self-evident. Adults can learn it through exploration. Many good AAC systems have a complex vocabulary organization that requires official training. This creates a barrier to modeling by everyone around the AAC user. We wanted Proloquo’s Crescendo Evolution™ vocabulary to be even more transparent than the original Crescendo.
In Crescendo Evolution, core words are organized in tabs based on word function (pronouns, verbs, describing words, etc.) supported by color-coding. Fringe words are organized into commonly recognized categories such as People, Places, Clothing, and Games. Exploration is facilitated by a very shallow hierarchy. Each category has only one level of sub-categories. For each meaning of a word, there is only a single motor plan, making it easier to remember where to find words.
Everyone has access
By the time a child is 18 months old, they will have received around 4,000 hours of language input from people speaking to them and around them. Children learning to use AAC need similarly intensive input. This is only possible if AAC is modeled at home, at school, and within the child’s community. In an ideal world, AAC users who are still developing language would be exposed to modeling by everyone all the time.
For this reason, everyone around the AAC user has free access to Proloquo with the user’s vocabulary. This includes family members, teachers, speech therapists, friends, and support workers. Everyone can put Proloquo on their own iPad. As long as these devices are connected to the internet, the vocabulary is always kept up-to-date.
A fixed motor plan
One of the biggest challenges teachers face is that even when students use the same AAC system, the vocabulary setup may be very different. This makes modeling difficult because teachers must learn a different setup for each student. Proloquo ensures a fixed motor plan for all essential words to facilitate modeling across individuals and environments. Words in the static core and the base vocabulary cannot be removed or rearranged. Parents, therapists, and teachers on the AAC user’s team can add personally relevant words for the AAC user but cannot modify the base vocabulary. The team admin can decide who on the team can only view the vocabulary and who can also add words. Any added words automatically become available to all team members.
A companion app
Together, all the above features of Proloquo ensure that modeling is as easy as possible. However, Proloquo goes one step further with its free companion app -Proloquo Coach. Proloquo Coach supports communication partners to learn how to model AAC with beginning users. It provides step-by-step guidance to parents. Its learn chapters introduce parents to the world of AAC and modeling. The practice chapters allow parents to apply what they learn through doable small activities. In small steps, Proloquo Coach helps build practice and confidence in modeling.
Biggs, E., Carter, E., & Gilson, C. (2018). Systematic Review of Interventions Involving Aided AAC Modeling for Children With Complex Communication Needs. American journal on intellectual and developmental disabilities, 123 5, 443-473.
Cheslock, M., Romski, M., & Sevcik, R. (2007). Providing Quality AAC Intervention Services to Very Young Children: Research and Recommended Practice. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 16, 2-6.
Dukhovny, E., & Gahl, S. (2014). Manual motor-plan similarity affects lexical recall on a speech-generating device: implications for AAC users. Journal of communication disorders, 48, 52-60.
Sennott, S., Light, J., & Mcnaughton, D. (2016). AAC Modeling Intervention Research Review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41, 101 - 115.
Our latest app duo is perfect for families new to AAC. The Proloquo app supports children’s communication, language, and literacy growth. The Proloquo Coach app provides parents easy step-by-step guidance for using AAC at home.
In 2009 AssistiveWare set out to democratize access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). We introduced Proloquo2Go - the first affordable AAC solution available on a consumer device. Today we are taking the next step: Bringing successful communication within reach of families by introducing Proloquo and Proloquo Coach.