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I absolutely love, LOVE the iPad (and other tablet devices) for the opportunities they create for those with Autism. Years ago my son was using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) picture cards to communicate that food and drink requests.
We would receive the cards from his Speech Therapist, but he would often lose or eat them. Eventually we started to make our own at home. We got a free trial of Boardmaker, and during the trial we downloaded and saved so many pictures.
Once, downloaded, we then printed on cardstock and laminated with an at-home laminator. If you do not have one of these, definitely a must-have. It will help your paper products last longer, especially if you have a child who likes to put any and everything in their mouth.
We cut out the individual pictures from our laminated sheets and we placed Velcro on the back of each picture and Velcro strips on a file dividers within a binder. Whenever Aidan would make a request or attempt to communicate a need, he would retrieve a picture from the board and give it to us.
This worked for us…until it didn’t. We still have these binders as backups, but we would much rather prefer to use the iPad. He would lose so many pictures or destroy them with saliva. Yes, even the laminate can’t hold up against submersion in spit. Your pictures will last longer, but they ain’t indestructible.
So, on the hunt for alternatives, we came across our first introduction with a Dynavox. These are devices that are specifically designed for communication only. Some now have wifi and you can do some other things on them, but they are still primarily for communication. And they run in the thousands. They can be covered by insurance, but I know for us, it was several hoops to jump through, and I ain’t athletic.
If you feel as though your child is ready for a communication app/device, then the following will pertain to you, if not, using the PECS cards are still a good option.
Disadvantages to Communication Apps/Device
Cost. Let’s face it, the cost of an iPad isn’t that cheap. Add in the cost of a communication app and it’ll set you back several hundred (which is still far cheaper than a Dynavox device). A quick Google search can alert you to several organizations who have iPad giveaways, grant applications, etc.
You can try to get an iPad for your child through their school as well, and there is always the option of trying to get your insurance to cover it. We had an insurance that covered an iPad and the communication app, but we did not go this route.
We won an iPad through Autism Speaks (they no longer do this), but unfortunately that one was accidently destroyed. We then opted to add an iPad to our Sprint family plan. It was cheaper to go this route than to pay for a device upfront.
Note: the tablet does not have to be an iPad, but it does have to be a good quality device as not all devices are created equally. Not all apps are compatible with certain devices. Research before you buy.
Many apps can set you back a couple hundred bucks, ours did. It was worth it, but damn, it’s expensive. April is coming up and there are a few apps that offer some steep discounts for their apps during Autism Awareness Month. So you might want to hold off until then to purchase.
My Favorite AAC Apps for iPad (these might also be on Android, but I am not sure).
This is the one we have, and we absolutely love it. It’s fully customizable, allowing you to search through images already on the app or use your own images. It accounts for the skill levels of all its users, from beginning to advanced.
The foundation of this app is Core Words, which are those words that make up the majority of what we say. Your child can start with single words and move up to sentences, all in this one app. There are also several voices and languages for you to choose from. One of the best things about this app is that there is a section that provides you with tools and resources on how best to use the app and teach your child to use it as well.
Now, the disadvantages, it is only available on IOS (Apple)devices. And, it’s costly, currently setting folks back $250.00. However, for a few years now, during the first few days of April, it’s available for 50% off for Autism Awareness Month. I am assuming they will run the same promotion this year, but who knows? I have also seen them run the same discount during October for a few days for AAC Month.
We have this app as well. This was our first paid AAC app. I wanted to be able to customize more and have access to more images, but I didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for an app. This app is very user-friendly and operates much like Proloquo in that you can use their images or your own, customize the labels, and personalization is top notch with this one.
What sets this one apart from many other apps is that it is available across multiple operating systems (IOS, Android, Microsoft, web browser, and more). Also, this app allows for multiple devices to be able to sync with one another. What you create in the web browser will sync with your tablet. Another great thing about this app is the Team Coordination feature. My son’s therapists were able to have their own login to access our son’s boards to either create their own, or modify a current one. This is a unique feature and did not require his therapist to take his device to update it.
While this is a paid app, running about $200, there is an option to pay monthly at just $6.00 per month. They also have one of the best trial periods around, at two months.
AAC Apps Lite versions:
While you can find many AAC apps that are free or low cost, these are generally lite versions of the their more expensive versions. I have found that these apps are not as user-friendly or they aren’t as customizable, but they are still good ones to start with until you are ready to purchase one.
They aren’t very good overall, in my opinion. Because they are free (or low cost), personalization and customization is virtually non-existent. However, they are good to test drive to gauge your child’s readiness for an AAC app.
Other Paid AAC Apps:
There are many other good apps out there, like TouchChat, but I am not familiar with those and I am not going to be one of those bloggers who push things I have absolutely no knowledge about. I have heard good things about TouchChat, but I have not personal experience with it.
And there you have it, an ultra-long post about TWO apps, lol.