How we designed Proloquo to grow with the AAC user

  • 6 minute read

AAC apps need to grow with their users. Learn how we designed Proloquo 4.0 to provide a seamless growth path from toddlerhood to adulthood.

Developing Language and AAC

Speaking children continuously expand their oral language as they grow from a babbling toddler to an eloquent adult. They master their native language through discovery, practice, implicit models, and explicit teaching. Their sentences get longer and more complex as they use more advanced grammar. For decades, the AAC field has struggled to provide AAC users with similar opportunities. With Proloquo 4.0, we have finally cracked this problem: it is as suitable for a two-year-old as an adult while supporting that toddler to seamlessly grow with the AAC system to adulthood.

To develop language, AAC users need an AAC system that:

  • caters to their current needs
  • supports and facilitates the learning of new words, categories, syntax, and grammatical inflections
  • predicts their future needs and expands to meet them without relearning.

Meeting all of these needs was the challenge we gave ourselves when we set out to develop Proloquo and improve it in our latest version, Proloquo 4.0.

Designing Proloquo

AssistiveWare has always focussed on generative rather than predictive vocabularies. We strongly believe that to develop language, it is important not to bypass learning categories, syntax, and grammar with predictive navigation or automatic grammatical inflections. It was therefore a given that we would develop a generative approach for Proloquo’s Crescendo Evolution™ vocabulary.

To avoid the need for relearning, we settled on a single level with a fixed grid size coupled with an efficient motor plan. Our main challenge was to provide quick access to a large set of words. This large set of words had to cater to young children's needs and facilitate child-directed modeling by parents. It also had to support school-aged children to fully participate in school curriculum and support adults to express themselves precisely. Additionally, we wanted to provide as much scaffolding as possible for learning categories, concepts, and sentence structure because so many children learning AAC struggle to learn these essential aspects of language.

Catering to young and emergent AAC users

Symbol-supported words

Proloquo was designed to cater to the youngest and most emergent AAC users by providing over 4,500 symbol-supported words (25-80% more than any other app).

Home screen

The Home screen is organized in alignment with the most common sentence structure to scaffold (but not enforce) correct syntax. Additionally, it provides quick access to key greetings and interjections as well as direct access to commonly used folders such as People, Time, and Food. The purple tab provides instant access to common chat words and phrases with ample space to add personally important phrases.

Getting early engagement

Proloquo’s folders and subfolders, such as Vehicles or Cooking, are easily used as activity pages to help children discuss personal interests and participate in activities.

Want Pizza
It's easy to use Proloquo for a cooking activity.

Learning categories

To facilitate teaching and learning categories, words are organized in logical categories based on scientific and cross-cultural organization. This avoids having to relearn categories later as students learn about mammals and reptiles rather than farm animals versus pets.

Learning concepts

Closely related words and words with opposite meanings are next to each other to facilitate teaching through comparing and contrasting. Words with multiple meanings (such as a light in a room vs an object that is light in weight) are located in categories that align with those meanings and are consistent with the meaning depicted by their graphic symbol. This aligns with how children learn words.

Less essential words are available through a rich set of text-only Related Words displayed on the side and associated with a primary concept. Even the most emergent users can learn to use these words by listening to the auditory feedback of the AAC voice, and learning their motor plan. These less-frequent and more nuanced words are anchored to a more general symbol-supported term, so users can learn their meaning through association.

There is a forest fire
Talking about forest fires you have easy access to Related Words such as “spark”, “flame”, and “smoke”.

Learning grammatical forms

Grammatical forms are always available on the side of the display and can be explored at any time. This makes it easy to teach grammar at the appropriate time.

Catering to students

Curriculum support

Proloquo caters to school-age AAC users with over 5,000 essential curriculum words (2 to 4 times more than other AAC apps). It’s the only AAC app designed to ensure access to the curriculum of the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.

Proloquo offers all essential vocabulary for teaching and learning languages, humanities, and arts with over 20 dedicated folders for subjects ranging from Grammar to History to Visual arts. It also offers excellent curriculum support for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), with over 25 dedicated folders for subjects ranging from physics to design to construction to geometry.

Learning literacy

Proloquo is designed to teach literacy. Proloquo encourages awareness of text by providing access to text-only Related Words on the side. Even non-readers can explore and listen to these words and discover more fun or powerful terms. Long before students can spell a word, they can observe text features such as word length and initial letters to identify the word they want to use.

Proloquo’s keyboard supports emergent to advanced writing. The earliest learners can explore combining letters, and then listen to their scribbles read aloud with text-to-speech. More advanced learners can use word prediction to support spelling.

Catering to adult AAC users

Proloquo caters to adult AAC users by providing out-of-the-box access to over 16,000 words (5 to 6 times more than any other AAC app). It’s the only AAC app designed to provide quick access to a rich set of nuanced words, allowing for precise expression without relying on spelling.

With Proloquo, it is easy to express ideas and opinions about hobbies, politics, sports, beliefs, work, media, and many other common topics adults care about without needing access to the keyboard.

She is a big soccer fan
With Related Words it is easy to add nuance and substitute “enthusiast” or “supporter” for “fan”.

Catering to all ages

Motor planning

The vocabulary is strongly motor-planned to make it easier to locate words efficiently. The most frequently used words are always available with one tap through two static top rows. There is no back button, so symbol-supported words are always reached through the same motor plan. Users never have to think how many steps to navigate back before going forward again.

Because the preprogrammed words cannot be moved or removed, the motor plan remains consistent throughout the user’s life.

Fringe organization

To make the vocabulary easy to use and learn for AAC users of any age and their communication partners, the fringe vocabulary is organized in a shallow hierarchy with only one level of sub-folders and never more than two preprogrammed pages.

To make the vocabulary age-agnostic, the School folder only has school-specific words. Subjects such as science, geography, government, and literacy are not located in the School folder but are always available from the top level of the fringe. The School folder is not limited to elementary or high school words, but also contains college and university terms on the second page, such as professor, faculty, and university. For similar reasons, there is a separate Games folder so that adults don’t need to go into a Toys folder to speak about the games they play.


Proloquo is extremely efficient despite offering a vocabulary that is 4 to 7 times larger than any other AAC app. On average, it takes only 1.6 taps per word to build phrases, making it as efficient as AAC apps with a similar grid size that uses predictive navigation and automatic grammatical inflections. Compared to motor-planned vocabularies with grid sizes up to twice as large, it is about 10% more efficient.


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